It’s difficult not to love every bit of the Maine coastline, but Portland holds a special niche. Recently named the number one place in the country to raise children and in the top 10 “perfect places to live in America,” the city experienced a rejuvenation of its downtown waterfront area, with its superb but previously neglected brick mercantile buildings, in the late 1970s. Twenty years later, a summer classical performance series appeared. The Old Port waterfront restaurants, once limited, are now plentiful and in many cases, superb. In toto, it is a delightful place to spend a summer weekend.
The Portland Chamber Music Festival was founded in 1994 by its Executive Director and Artistic-Co director Jennifer Elowitch and Artistic Co-Director Dena Levine. Elowitch, who taught at New England Conservatory Preparatory School (and is still officially still on the faculty) has lived in Maine, her home state, since 2004. But she continues to be involved with the classical music scene in Boston; she is assistant principal second violin with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and often subs for the BSO, serves as a faculty member at Longy School of Music and at the Composers’ Conference at Wellesley, and plays with numerous other chamber music groups.
A recent newspaper article said that she has “slowed down” of late, but how a woman with twins, aged two, slows down is a mystery to this grandmother septuagenarian. And her concertizing is still impressive, with the Portland Festival leading the list.
“It has become such an essential part of what I do now,” she said, “and we now are doing things throughout the year.”
Ellowitch and Levine have done an admirable job involving local media, cultural organizations, and businesses in the work of the group. The Festival has been heard on National Public Radio and on WGBH in Boston, and twice it has been awarded an Aaron Copland grant for performance of American contemporary music.
The renowned Boston-area organist and harpsichordist Peter Sykes has been a regular performer over the years. This year’s roster includes current and former members of the Vermeer, Arditti, and FLUX String Quartets; the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Orpheus Ensemble; and faculty members at the New England Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, and other renowned institutions.
Festival concerts are held on two Thursdays and Saturdays in mid August. Ibert, Sonenberg, Ravel and Schumann, are on the first program, Thursday, August 12, with pieces featuring flute and harp; Whistlesparks for Flute and Harp, by Daniel Sonenberg, a professor at University of Southern Maine, is the recent work. Mozart, Chen Yi and Dvorak compositions for strings, flute, clarinet, and piano, are on the program for Saturday, August 14; Grammy Award-winning Chinese composer Chen Yi, the first woman in China to receive a Masters Degree in composition, is the recipient of numerous awards. Dohnanyi’s Piano Quintet in C minor, Six Bagatelles for String Trio by Andrew List, the winning work of PCMF’s 5th Composers Competition, and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A Major with Todd Palmer make up the program for August 19; and Peggy Pearson will be in the program on August 21, with her transcription of Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major, Loeffler’s Two rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola, and Piano, and Prokofiev’s Quintet in G minor for Violin, viola, Oboe, Clarinet, and Bass.
PCMF’s summer concerts are held at the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland Campus, an easily accessible, modern, air-conditioned venue close to downtown Portland.