Out & About: Concerts with many strings attached

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Three string ensembles in two vastly different genres are the top items on this weekend’s A&E bill of fare.

Let’s start with the DaPonte String Quartet, a topnotch classical ensemble based in the Midcoast region that will be playing a program of music from Vienna in four different towns, including Portland on Saturday and Topsham on Sunday.

Two old-time string ensembles have been booked for Saturday evening at One Longfellow Square in Portland. First on stage is a trio headed by nationally known mandolinist Joe Walsh. They’re followed by a duo headed by fiddler Lauren Rioux.

The Portland Rossini Club, by far Maine’s oldest musical ensemble, has scheduled its May concert for this Sunday.

DaPonte String Quartet

In the world of classical music, Vienna, Austria, is the undisputed capital, home to generations of the greatest composers in history. That’s the inspiration for the final concerts of the 2013-2014 season by the DaPonte String Quartet. A trio of major works by three famous composers who lived in the city will be featured in a quartet of concerts Thursday through Sunday in four different venues.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Spring Quartet” is the first of the so-called “Haydn Quartets.” They were written in Vienna in honor of Franz Joseph Haydn, another famous Viennese composer and the creative genius who is widely considered the father of the genre. Haydn was deeply impressed by the younger composer’s work and famously stated so in a letter.

German-born Felix Mendelssohn was greatly influenced by another German composer closely associated with Vienna: Ludwig van Beethoven. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A Minor was written when he was only 18 but already an experienced composer of chamber music. While remaining a richly romantic work, it clearly reflects his fascination with Beethoven’s late quartets.

The program finale is by Beethoven himself. He wrote the String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major during his middle period, while living in Vienna. Nicknamed “The Harp,” it is a lavish and sensuous work that approaches perfection. The nickname derives from an elegant and impressionistic pizzicato section that creates a sound like the plucking of a harp.

The DaPonte String Quartet was formed in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, and moved to Maine in 1992 on a rural arts grant from Chamber Music America and the National Endowment for the Arts. They perform over 40 concerts a year from Presque Isle to Ogunquit.

Performances of “Vienna, Vienna” are on May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Church, 200 Main St., Thomaston; May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St., Damariscotta; May 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, and May 18 at 3 p.m. at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St., Topsham. Call 529-4555.

One Longfellow Square

American roots and bluegrass are the twin inspirations behind a wonderful string music double bill that’s slated for Saturday in Portland. Five musicians are featured, grouped in two ensembles, with each headed by a Mainer with a national reputation.

First up will be a trio comprising mandolinist Joe Walsh, fiddler Brittany Haas and guitarist Owen Marshall. Walsh is known for his exceptional tone and taste and has two solo CDs to his credit and he currently teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Walsh has played all over the world in all sorts of ensembles, but is best known as the mandolin wiz in the Gibson Brothers band and for his work with the pop/grass group Joy Kills Sorrow.

California-born Haas began touring with the Republic of Strings at the age of 14. Other band credits include Crooked Still, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Waybacks. Marshall boasts wide experience in various forms of roots music and is perhaps best known as the guitarist with The Press Gang, a traditional Irish band.

Although they haven’t named their group, these three musicians often play together. I like the energy and enthusiasm that they bring to their joint concerts. One of their recordings is playing as I write this. Their music is infectious.

Saturday’s other un-named group is headed by Lauren Rioux, a young lady who fiddles from the heart with soul and joy, artfully exploring themes of both heartache and hope. Rooted in the old-time tradition, and drawing inspiration from a wide swath of musicians, Rioux’s music is at once timeless and fresh. She is a native Mainer who has wide experience on the national music scene.

Rioux is noted for a warm tone, elegantly expressive phrasing and playful style. “All the Brighter,” her debut CD, presents a beautiful collection of melodies that embrace and celebrate the richness of life.

Joining Rioux onstage will be Lincoln Meyers, an award-winning guitarist who has been playing professionally for 30 years, 18 of them on in New England.

Catch a wonderful evening of Americana and bluegrass May 17 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Rossini Club

Of all the ensembles and organizations that contribute to the vitality and richness of the Maine music scene, none can match the Portland Rossini Club. Now in it’s 143rd season (not a misprint) the club has provided a venue for many generations of top-notch amateur musicians who play solely for the love of making music. Many are professional music teachers, and all performing members of the club must first pass an audition before appearing before the public.

Originally founded as an all-women organization in the decade following the Civil War, the Portland Rossini Club is also unmatched in terms of the number and frequency of its performances. Club members – men have been admitted since the 1900s – give a series of eight monthly concerts from autumn into spring, always on Sunday afternoons.

I’ve attended a number of these in recent years, and can give an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

On May 18, the Portland Rossini Club will present the seventh concert in its 2013-2014 season. The thematic focus is the Belle Epoque of Paris (1871-1914), a period that approximately corresponds with the club’s first five decades. Two works from that period are featured: Cesar Franck’s Chorale in A Minor and Camille Saint-Saens’ “A Carnival of the Animals.”

Catch the Portland Rossini Club on May 18 at 3 p.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, 143 State St. in Portland. Call 797-8318.

Sidebar Elements

Lauren Rioux is a country fiddler, who was born in Maine and has played all over the U.S. She’ll be one of five string musicians on a double bill at One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday, May 17.