Out & About: Violin virtuoso Jennifer Koh visits PSO

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In the two decades that I’ve been writing this column, I can’t remember a spate of classical music performances equal to what’s coming up over the next week.

Top billing goes to the Portland Symphony Orchestra, which will play one of the most popular violin concertos of the Romantic period, featuring a guest artist who is noted for her mastery of the work.

The University of Southern Maine School of Music continues its public faculty concert series this Friday in an evening featuring cello professor William Rounds.

Both of Maine’s top-tier string quartets are launching their 2013-2014 seasons. The DaPonte String Quartet will play its first program four times in four towns Oct. 24-27, retaining its reputation as Maine’s busiest chamber ensemble.

The Portland String quartet will appear Sunday in the namesake city. The concert will feature guest artist Rahim AlHaj, a master of the Middle Eastern oud.

Portland Ovations will be hosting a visit by the internationally acclaimed piano trio comprising David Finckel, Wu Han and Philip Setzer on Saturday afternoon.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

A dazzling violin virtuoso will perform one of classical music’s most fiery and lyrical concertos in the second concert of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Tuesday Classical series on Oct. 29. The centerpiece of music director Robert Moody’s program will be Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and for the solo honors he has selected Jennifer Koh, a globetrotting artist who has pleased southern Maine audiences before.

Koh is recognized for her intense, commanding performances, delivered with exciting virtuosity and technical assurance. Since the 1994-1995 season, when she won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow as well as the Avery Fisher Career Grant, Koh has been in demand as a soloist with orchestras around the world.

Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, his only venture into that genre, is considered a masterpiece of the Romantic period. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr describes it as “full of passion, sentiment and a wealth of wonderful tunes,” and he lauds the concerto’s “fiery passion, unexpected turns and endless lyricism.”

Also on the program are orchestral suites from a pair of seldom-performed operas. “Dr. Atomic,” by John Adams, is a contemporary American work that takes its inspiration from the first nuclear bomb explosion, a 1945 test in the New Mexico desert. Aaron Copland’s “Tender Land,” a 20th-century American work, is often heard in symphonic settings, although the full opera is almost forgotten.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra in Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

William Rounds

For the second straight Friday, the University of Southern Maine School of Music will hold one of its public faculty concerts. This third offering of the series is devoted to an evening that features longtime cello professor William Rounds, who also plays with the Portland Symphony and the Boston Symphony.

Rounds’ program focuses on bright, spirited pieces from many countries and cultures. “The audience will feel like they’ve traveled through a variety of styles and time periods,” Rounds says. “It’s a complete musical experience.”

His selections of music include works by Luigi Boccherini, a classical Italian composer; Andre Previn, an Academy Award-winning composer; Johannes Brahms, the legendary 19th-century German composer; and Zoltan Kodaly, a composer and philosopher from Hungary. Rounds will be accompanied by pianist Sayuri Miyamoto and soprano Elizabeth Marshall, a USM alumna who teaches voice.

The concert is slated for Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus, at 8 p.m. Oct. 26. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet launches its 22nd season in Maine with a program that will be performed four times Oct. 24-27 at venues in Thomaston, Damariscotta, Portland and Topsham.

Selections include Ludwig van Beethoven’s first string quartet plus another first quartet by Sergei Prokofiev, a Russian who was commissioned by the U.S. Library of Congress. Plus there’s an overlooked gem by William Walton, a Briton who is better known for his large orchestral creations.

The DaPonte String Quartet comprises violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes plus violist Kirsten Monke and cellist Miles Jordan. They perform more than 40 concerts a year from Presque Isle to Ogunquit.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 in Thomaston at St. John’s Church, 200 Main Street; Oct. 25 in Damariscotta at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St.; Oct. 26 at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square; and at 3 p.m. in Topsham at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St. Call 529-4555.

Portland String Quartet

Portland String Quartet, a mainstay of the Maine music scene since 1969, will open its first full season with violinist Dean Stein in the first chair. Stein replaces PSQ founding member Stephen Kecskemethy, who died in August. The others – violinist Ron Lantz, violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – are PSQ co-founders.

This first program of the 2013-2014 season will open with a string quartet by Claude Debussy – and then veer off into a very different direction. Four compositions for oud and string quartet by Rahim AlHaj are on the program, with AlHaj himself playing the oud, a fret-less stringed instrument that is often heard in Middle Eastern music. The oud looks much like the lute and is considered to be a predecessor to the modern guitar.

Catch the Portland String Quartet’s “East Meets West” concert at 2 p.m. Oct. 27 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

Finckel-Han-Setzer Trio

No two people epitomize the jet-setting multi-tasking character of today’s globetrotting classical musicians better than the husband-wife duo comprising cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han. The pair played a concert in Portland about six years ago. Transformed into a trio with the addition of violinist Philip Setzer, they return on Saturday under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Finckel and Han exemplify the “power couple” so much admired in today’s society. Best known as co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, they are also co-founders of ArtistLed, an independent, Internet-based recording company that allows total control by participating musicians. Recent achievements in this country include launching a new chamber music festival in California’s Silicon Valley.

Violinist Setzer is a longtime collaborator. He played with Finckel for decades in the well-known Emerson Quartet.

On Saturday, the trio will perform a program featuring works by Antonin Dvorak, Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Catch the Finckel-Han-Setzer Trio at 3 p.m. (note afternoon time) Oct. 26 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

The DaPonte String Quartet will play four concerts in four cities and towns Oct. 24-27.