The DaPonte String Quartet is no stranger to Portland. The classical music group, which makes its home and plays most of its concerts on Maine’s midcoast, has always enjoyed performing in Maine’s largest and most culturally diverse city.
But until it added the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library to its touring itinerary in this, its 21st season, the quartet has never had a completely comfortable home in Portland.
In addition to its concerts this week in Thomaston, Damariscotta and Topsham, the quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Rines as part of its late-winter “Colourists” concert series. The program features music by Haydn, Debussy and Stravinsky.
At home at the Rines, the DaPonte finds itself acclimating to Portland very well, said violist Kirsten Monke, who lives in Harpswell.
“Finally, we have found a place that has everything we want for both ourselves and the audience,” she said. “It has excellent acoustics, which was quite a big surprise. It doesn’t look like it would sound as well as it does.”
The quartet is one of Maine’s most revered classical music ensembles. It has made its reputation playing anywhere and everywhere: Elementary schools, colleges, retirement communities and, most frequently, stately old churches.
And now, a public library in the heart of downtown.
The quartet prefers old churches with high ceilings and wooden pews. Previously in Portland, it performed at the State Street Church.
But despite its favorable acoustics, the Portland church presented challenges. A lack of convenient parking and difficult brick sidewalks in the winter were two. And some people complained they simply had a hard time finding the church.
The Rines addresses those concerns, and offers one unlikely benefit — surprisingly good acoustics.
“I don’t know quite how to explain it,” Monke said. “We play in all these churches, because that’s where the good acoustics are. But the Rines Auditorium is kind of neat. It’s just different for us.”
The daughter of a librarian, Monke appreciates the karma of the library. It’s a community magnet that draws people in.
“It’s a welcoming open door, and you don’t feel that it’s something exclusive. It’s inclusive,” she said. “The first time we played there, it was part of the First Friday Art Walk. We played upstairs, and it was really cool. People were walking in and out, and there were people there just to use the library. They got fixated. People were frozen in place around us.”
The DaPonte has made other inroads in southern Maine, with regular concerts in Ogunquit, Cape Porpoise and Wells.
True to form, the group is willing to play just about anywhere. In August, it will perform in a barn at Laudholm Farm in Wells.
“It’s really rustic,” Monke said. “You can almost imagine people sitting on hay bales. It will be intimate, and people can bring a picnic. It should be really neat. That’s the sort of thing we are hoping to make an annual event, something that people can look forward to every year.
“If you hear classical music in a different setting, it has a different impact. There is something about sitting out where you can feel really close to nature. You hear this music differently. It seems so natural.”
After the March concerts, the DaPonte will get together with Portland sound engineer Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering — he’s worked with everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Rolling Stones — to record its next CD.
As for the concerts this weekend, the music will present a healthy challenge for Monke and her three colleagues — violin players Lydia Forbes and Ferdinand Liva, and cellist Myles Jordan.
The program includes Haydn’s Opus 76 No. 4; Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, Opus 10; and Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet.
The Haydn piece, “Sunrise,” is said to be terrifying to play. The Debussy is considered to be a “watershed” in chamber music for its break from traditional rules of harmony. And the Stravinksy work is full of color.
Performed on the cusp of spring, the works represent a program that looks forward and offers hope and light, Monke said.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: