Out & About: Catch the 1st wave of summer music festivals

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Summer music festivals and seasonal concert series have been part of Maine’s cultural landscape for many years; there are now about two dozen. The first festivals of the 2010 season open within the week.

One of the newest is produced by the Portland Conservatory of Music. PCM’s seventh annual International Piano Festival opens this Friday with a concert by Frank Glazer, a Mainer, and wraps up on Monday with Russian artist Tamara Poddubnaya.

The Portland String Quartet has some interesting events scheduled as part of its fifth annual Maine Festival of American Music, held in New Gloucester. Perhaps the most intriguing is this Saturday’s concert, in which musical furniture is featured. One item was fashioned from “Herbie,” Yarmouth’s majestic elm tree.

The Bowdoin International Music Festival is Maine’s biggest classical gathering of the summer. The 2010 edition gets underway June 30 on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick.

PORTopera’s Young Artist program offers a pair of one-acts sung in English in six different locations over the next month. The series starts Friday in Portland.

International Piano Festival

One of Maine’s newest classical music festivals, a production of the Portland Conservatory of Music, opens June 25 with a concert by Frank Glazer, the dean of Maine pianists. Now over 90, Glazer is an artist-in-residence and lecturer at Bates College. He has picked works by J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann.

George Lopez, a New Hampshire artist who frequently collaborates with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, will perform pieces by Schumann and Bach on Sunday.

Russian-born pianist Tamara Poddubnaya, a globetrotting performer and professor at the North Netherlands Conservatory, will wrap up the series on Monday. Poddubnaya is the International Piano Festival’s star performer, pedagogue and all-around anchor. Her June 28 program comprises four solo works by Schumann and Chopin.

These three concerts are slated for 7:30 p.m. at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland, the home of PCM.

Also scheduled are run-out concerts by festival students in Brunswick and Bar Mills on Saturday plus public master classes on Tuesday in Portland. For details, call the Portland Conservatory of Music at 775-3356 or visit www.portlandconservatory.net.

Maine Festival of American Music

The legacy of “Herbie,” Yarmouth’s ancient and iconic elm tree, lives on – as a piece of musical furniture and an exemplar of Maine craftsmanship.

After succumbing to Dutch elm disease, Yarmouth’s beloved behemoth named Herbie was cut down last January. About 6,000 board feet of wood from the 217-year-old landmark was salvaged and distributed to several dozen Maine craftsmen.

Some of this wood was recently turned into a music stand by Christian Becksvoort, New Gloucester’s famed furniture maker.

Becksvoort’s music stand will be featured this Saturday at the Portland String Quartet’s annual festival at the Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester. Two other music stands built by Pine Tree State craftsmen (but not from Herbie wood) will also be featured at the Maine Festival of American Music, which takes place every June at the historic village.

All three will be showcased on the festival’s finale concert, scheduled for June 26. The four musicians of the Portland String Quartet – violinists Stephen Kecskemethy and Ron Lantz plus violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – have invited the three woodworkers to share the stage and speak about their craft. The other furniture makers are John Stass of Lewiston and Robert Cariddi of Buxton.

Although the Maine Festival of American Music is only 5 years old, the Portland String Quartet has been performing at the Sabbathday Lake village since the early 1970s.

Guest artist is pianist Paul Posnak, a frequent PSQ collaborator. He’ll join in performing in Ernest Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 1. Swiss-born Bloch emigrated to this country in 1916. He was very prominent in American musical circles until his death in 1959. The Portland String Quartet is particularly noted for interpreting Bloch; one CD was cited by The New York Times as Best Chamber Music Recording.

The June 26 program is slated for 7 p.m. at the Old Shaker Meeting House on Shaker Road (old Route 26) in New Gloucester. Call 926-4597.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Biggest of Maine’s summer classical gatherings, the Bowdoin International Music Festival was founded in 1964 by violinist Lewis Kaplan, a Juilliard pedagogue, and the late Robert Beckwith, the longtime chairman of the Bowdoin College Music Department.

The festival has grown over the years and now offers approximately 80 concerts in multiple series plus public master classes and lectures over the span of six weeks. BIMF is a personal favorite of mine. Every year I try to attend one concert per week, sampling the various series.

The first concert is June 30, marking first of the festival’s Wednesday Upbeat! series. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. The featured ensemble will be the Ying String Quartet, four siblings from suburban Chicago who have been festival regulars for years.

As in past years, the four Yings will perform and teach for three weeks. On Wednesday, they’ll play Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 9. Festival newcomer Boris Slutsky, who teaches at the Peabody Institute of Music, will perform Chopin’s famous Polonaise Fantasy.

For tickets and a season brochure, call 725-3895 or visit www.bowdoinfestival.org.

Young artists

PORTopera is the Port City’s own professional opera company, slated to produce Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel” at the end of July. Less known is the company’s Young Artist Program, which stages smaller productions in June and July under the direction of University of Southern Maine School of Music voice professor Ellen Chickering.

For 2010 Chickering has selected a pair of one-act operas to be performed in English, beginning on Friday.

“The Impresario” was written in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and is set in the theater manager’s room at the opera house, with the impresario juggling the egos of two sopranos who auditioned for the same role. The rivalry between the two divas is this delightful opera’s comic driving force.

Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Night Bell” follows the attempts of an unsuccessful lover to prevent his successful rival, an apothecary, from enjoying his wedding night.  He succeeds by adorning various disguises, ringing the night bell, and asking for medicine, interrupting any thoughts of romance.

Six performances are slated in southern Maine and New Hampshire. The first and only Portland performance takes place June 25 at 7:30 p.m. at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

The Ying String Quartet opens the 2010 season of the Bowdoin International Music Festival on June 30.