Out & About: 3 music festivals, jazz concert

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As the calendar flips to August, three music festivals in southern Maine compete for attention and audiences. One is wrapping up. One is about to begin. One is just underway.

Just underway is Orgelfest, a celebration of Portland’s magnificent Kotzschmar Memorial Organ. Three concerts remain on the schedule plus a couple of opportunities for the public to walk inside and explore the 50-ton instrument.

Soon to start is the 23nd edition of Portland Chamber Music Festival, which has four concerts slated Aug. 11-20.

And it’s coda time for the 44th season of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, which wraps up with “Windfest” on Aug. 9.

Dimensions in Jazz, a concert series of the Portland Conservatory of Music, has scheduled percussionist-composer Kevin Norton and his ensemble this Saturday.


The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, the support group that helps maintain, promote and program the mighty instrument in Portland City Hall, hits the high point of its annual summer season each August with a series of events they call “Orgelfest.”

Organ in German is “orgel,” and the 50-ton mechanical behemoth is named for a German musician, Hermann Kotzschmar, an immigrant who was central to Portland’s cultural life in the 19th century. The instrument was dedicated to Kotzschmar’s memory when it was installed in 1912. It was donated to the city by Portland native Cyrus H.K. Curtis, a publishing magnate who asked that it be named for his boyhood music teacher.

Orgelfest is anchored by a series of Tuesday concerts that run through Aug. 23. Guest artists representing various styles perform Aug. 9 and 16, while the finale will be performed by Ray Cornils, the city’s official municipal organist – one of only two in the nation.

Here’s the lineup: On Aug. 9 the guest will be Dave Wickerham, whose speciality is silent movie accompaniments. Katelyn Emerson, a rising young star in the field, commands the keyboard Aug. 16. The Aug. 23 season-closer will feature Cornils plus the Kotzschmar Festival Brass, an ensemble of wind players mostly drawn from the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the Tuesday concerts, there are three opportunities, Aug. 13, 17 and 24, for the public to tour the mighty instrument and explore its inner workings. These backstage visits include a walk through the Kotzschmar’s central windbox, which is spacious enough to hold a small dinner gathering. Visit FOKO.org.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

Twenty-two years ago this August, violin virtuoso Jennifer Elowitch launched the Portland Chamber Music Festival. Elowitch, a Portland native who was very active in Boston music circles, envisioned a concert series in her hometown that would feature a variety of world-class musicians performing a full spectrum of classical music, ranging from the Baroque era to contemporary.

Her four-concert formula was sound, and the 20-odd artists she invited were stellar. But audiences that first year were tiny. I know. I was there for all four.

Not much has changed over the years, except for the audiences. They grew so large that Elowitch had to move to a bigger concert hall.

This year’s 23rd edition of the Portland Chamber Music Festival continues Elowitch’s formula for success. About 20 invited musicians will play a variety of works ranging from Italian Baroque master Antonio Vivaldi’s “La Folia” sonata to three pieces by contemporary composers.

Performing the work of living composers has been central to Elowitch’s vision and mission from the get-go. Since 2006, she’s sponsored a competition for composers that draws entries from around the world. This year’s winner is Italian composer Carla Magnan. Her “Margini Uno” will be the second work of the first concert.

For the first time in years, the roster of artists includes another Mainer. This year it’s piano virtuoso Henry Kramer, who grew up in Cape Elizabeth. A recent Juilliard School grad, Kramer is now embarking on a professional career. He’ll perform in the final two concerts.

Portland Chamber Music Festival concerts are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Dates are Aug. 11, 13, 18 and 20. Call 800-320-0257 or visit PCMF.org.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

Sonic variety is the over-arching concept, and “Windfest” is the name. That’s a quick summary of the final concert of the 2016 season at the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival in Harrison. It’s the 44th year of the festival, but the first under the artistic direction of Mihae Lee, a South Korean-born pianist who has lived in Boston for many years.

I’ve been a regular attendee at this festival for about 15 years, and I’ve noticed no significant change in Lee’s programming. After all, this is her 22nd year as a performer, and the board of directors selected her because she promised to continue the festival’s longstanding formula for success.

One of the things I like best about classical music festivals is the variety that’s possible when so many instrumentalists are gathered. For her Aug. 9 finale, Lee has selected four works to be performed by 10 musicians, five of whom play woodwinds or horns. The others represent the usual assortment of piano and strings.

The composers Lee has selected represent a broad spectrum of styles, nationalities and periods, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Strauss, Carl Nielsen and Erno Dohnanyi. In the case of each composer, the chosen piece represents an interesting departure or variation from his usual style.

Catch the final concert of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival’s 2016 season at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747.

Kevin Norton

Percussionist-composer Kevin Norton and his ensemble will be featured this Saturday when the Portland Conservatory of Music’s Dimensions in Jazz series holds a rare summertime concert. Directed by Paul Lichter, Dimensions in Jazz brings an eclectic selection of top artists to Portland every year.

Norton, a music professor at New Jersey’s William Paterson University, is known for three interrelated musical personas: performer, composer and publisher (via his Barking Hoop record label). As a composer, he was selected for the honor of a month’s residency at New Hampshire’s famed MacDowell Colony in 2002.

Long active in New York’s music scene, Norton records his own compositions, plus he’s an active sideman with other ensembles. For his upcoming Portland appearance, he’ll bring four sidemen: a violist, two electric guitarists and an electric bassist.

Catch Kevin Norton and his band at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call 775-3356.

Clarinetist Jo-Ann Sternberg will be one of five woodwind and horn players performing Aug. 9 in “Windfest,” the 2016 season finale of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival.