Listening to the DaPonte String Quartet concert last week, I was surprised by the bright acoustics of the large headquarters building at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay.

We have a lot of new concert venues in Maine, from the converted cathedral of the Franco-American Heritage Center in Lewiston to Hannaford Hall at USM’s Abromson Community Education Center and the amazing converted swimming pool of Bowdoin’s Studzinski Recital Hall, where one can still sense the ancient echoes off wet tile walls.

The older places are still the best, though: Deertrees in Harrison, which is like being inside a cello, the Theater at Monmouth and the Yarmouth Meeting House, where I first noticed the vast difference in sound created by audience size.

The finest acoustics of all, however. are at the Old Walpole Meeting House, where the DaPonte String Quartet made its first recording.

The building was then, as it is now, without heat or electricity, with pews and boxes designed to mortify the flesh of churchgoers — but the sound was worth the inconveniences.

If only they could have prevailed upon the Maine State Police to stop traffic on the highway a quarter-mile distant there still would have been airplane noise, I suppose.

At 7 p.m. on Sept. 12, the quartet will play its 14th annual benefit concert to help defray the considerable costs of maintaining the structure. The venue was built in 1772 and retains almost all of its original features, including hardware, 24-pane windows — each said to have cost the price of a cow — panelling and original hand-hewn shingles.

It also has a huge high pulpit with a sounding board built by local shipwrights and reminiscent of the one in the opening chapter of “Moby-Dick.” It’s too small to hold an entire quartet, but perhaps a violin soloist?

The building was not intended for concerts, and the DaPonte teeters on a raised plywood platform opposite the front door, barely large enough to hold four folding chairs, instruments and music stands.

The scores are illuminated by battery-powered lights, which have improved over the years, but still cause problems occasionally. Candlelight, which graces the rest of the room, has never seemed strong enough to read music by.

The musical experience, however, is as close as one can come in this era to what listeners must have heard in the chambers for which intimate 18th-century music was written. It doesn’t matter where one sits. Even in the servants’ gallery, the sound is live and vibrant, while closer to the instruments, there is still a fine balance.

The quartet generally chooses at least one work written around the time the meeting house was built — the Sept. 12 concert will feature the Haydn “Bird” Quartet, Opus 33, No. 3 (1781). The program will also include Ravel’s String Quartet in F and the Dvorak “American” Quartet, Opus 96.

The Walpole concert is always a fitting close to the Maine summer music season, and is usually sold out. Tickets, at $25, are available by calling 882-7744, and it’s advisable to arrive at the Meeting House early with seat cushions. 

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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