Out & About: Ray Cornils: 25 years at Kotzschmar keyboard

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Three years ago the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ celebrated the 100th anniversary of the mighty instrument’s installation in Portland City Hall. This year, the Friends celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of the appointment of municipal organist Ray Cornils. A daylong schedule of events is slated for Saturday, and Cornils’ 25th anniversary concert takes place on Tuesday.

The last of Maine’s classical music festivals wraps up this Saturday. The Portland Chamber Music Festival will feature a metaphorical “road trip” around the U.S. before packing up for the season.

On Aug. 26 in Portland, New England Celtic Arts will present Newfoundland folk singer Matthew Byrne, who will perform traditional songs from both sides of the Atlantic.


The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, a support group that helps maintain, promote and program the mighty instrument in Portland City Hall, is wrapping up its 2015 summer program this Saturday and Tuesday. The Friends are calling it “Orgelfest.”

Organ in German is “orgel,” and the 50-ton musical behemoth is named for a German, Hermann Kotzschmar, an immigrant musician who was central to Portland’s cultural life in the 19th century. The organ was dedicated to Kotzschmar’s memory when it was installed in 1912.

This Saturday, the Friends have events planned from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fourteen visiting organists will have about 20 minutes apiece to play selections of their choice. These include local favorite Harold Stover, music director of Renaissance Voices.

Hour-long tours inside the instrument will be offered at 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. I took one of these walkabouts some years ago, and it’s an impressive experience that’s not soon forgotten. The windbox, the heart of the instrument, can hold a dozen people.

On Aug. 25, Ray Cornils will give a concert in celebration of his own anniversary: 25 years as the official Kotzschmar organist. Cornils is a popular musician who’s noted for varied and interesting programming. He’ll be joined by the Kotzschmar Festival Brass, a group of five players from the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Orgelfest takes place in Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Saturday’s events are free. For tickets to Cornils’ 7:30 p.m. concert, call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

The Portland Chamber Music Festival hits the road this Saturday. Literally, that means that musicians will pack up their instruments and move on to their next gigs. But not before they play “Lonesome Roads,” a contemporary classical composition by Dan Visconti, which will be featured on the festival’s closing concert.

Contemporary music by living composers has long been a focus of Jennifer Elowitch, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director. Nearly every concert in its history has included at least one such piece, and in 2015, for the first time, all four composers are attending and introducing their pieces.

A Chicago native, Visconti is one of America’s busiest and most venturesome contemporary composers. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music, and has since been granted fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Copland House, Lucas Artists Program at Italy’s Villa Montalvo and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

“‘Lonesome Roads’ was inspired by memories of long, cross-country car trips and the rumbling, uneven grooves that underscore a constantly-shifting landscape,” Visconti commented. “Beginning from the faintest murmurs, the music evokes a vast space that can be alternately lonely, hypnotic, or hard-driving and rhythmic.”

He also described “Lonesome Roads” as “a kind of road atlas with many routes connecting any two points. It’s pure ‘driving music,’ a mixtape populated with the vastness, diversity and flavor of the North American landscape.”

Elowitch told me: “Dan Visconti is quite well-known for bending genres by combining elements of blues and rock into his classical compositions. I’ve been aware of him for a couple of years and programmed ‘Lonesome Roads’ for this summer after another piece of his was a big hit at a recent SPACE Gallery concert.” (PCMF holds its fall and spring concerts at SPACE.)

Visconti’s musical journey will be the middle piece on the program, sandwiched between two major traditional works. The opener will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s Serenade in D Major for Flute, Violin and Viola. The concluding piece, which also closes the festival’s 22nd season, will be Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor.

PCMF musicologist Will Hertz of Topsham noted the significance of the Brahms: “Today the quintet is the most frequently performed of all Brahms’ chamber music works. Further, it is one of the most effective blendings in the literature of the tonal resources of the piano and four stringed instruments.”

Catch the finale of the Portland Chamber Music 2015 season at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 320-0257 or visit pcmf.org.

Matthew Byrne

Traditional songs of the Canadian Maritime Provinces and Scotland will be the musical bill of fare when New England Celtic Arts presents Matthew Byrne in concert on Aug. 26.

A singer and guitarist, Byrne was born into a family of musicians in Newfoundland. Geographically it’s the sparsely populated easternmost province of Canada, and historically it’s the oldest permanent British settlement in North America. Much of Byrne’s music reflects a rugged spirit of isolation, redolent of the seafarers who ventured upon the stormy North Atlantic in fishing schooners and square-riggers.

Byrne believes in storytelling, and he specializes in traditional maritime songs – some three centuries old – originating from both sides of the Atlantic. His arrangements are sparse, to emphasize characters and narratives. Subject matter is typical of traditional folk music: lost loves, fishermen’s tales and maritime disasters – heartfelt ballads that bear intriguing titles such as “McAlpine’s Crew,” “Loss of the Schooner Maggie,” “Barque in the Harbour” and “Banks of Newfoundland.”

Byrne’s professional career began four years ago when he recorded “Ballads,” his first solo CD. Since then he’s been a fixture on the traditional music scene and folk festivals in Canada and the U.S. He recently released his second album, “Hearts & Heroes,” which he’s promoting on this summer’s musical journeys.

I’m listening to a collection of Byrne’s recordings as I write this preview, and I plan to be among the audience on Wednesday.

New England Celtic Arts presents Matthew Byrne at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Portland Municipal Organist Ray Cornils is celebrating his 25th anniversary at the keyboard of the mighty Kotzschmar Memorial Organ. The Kotzschmar’s 2015 summer season wraps up with a full day of events on Saturday and Cornils’ 25th anniversary concert on Tuesday.