March 24, 2013

Portland String Quartet receives national acclaim

Recognized for its longevity, the group endures its first change in membership since forming in 1969.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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The Portland String Quartet, left – Paul Ross, Steve Kecskemethy, Julia Adams and Ronald Lantz – pose at Sabbathday Lake in 1970.

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The same musicians last week, with outgoing first chair Kecskemethy in the foreground, and the quartet’s newest member, Dean Stein, at right.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


The Portland String Quartet will receive the 2013 CMAcclaim Award from Chamber Music America during a concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodfords St., Portland. The Spelaeus String Quartet will also perform. Admission is $22 ($20 for seniors and free for ages 21 and younger). For information, visit

While the roots of the quartet extend to Vermel and the Portland Symphony, its longevity is largely owed to the efforts of the nonprofit LARK Society for Chamber Music.

The organization was launched by fans of the quartet in 1980 to support the quartet after it split from the PSO. The LARK Society takes its name from the initials of each original member's last name.

With the LARK Society supporting its efforts and organizing concerts and educational series around the state, the Portland String Quartet has thrived. The group has been reviewed in The New York Times and the Boston Globe, traveled extensively overseas and been the subject of a Harvard Business School documentary that used the quartet as a model for effective teamwork.

That's why the change in membership is so hard, said Judith Halpert, secretary of the LARK Society and a longtime fan of the group. The musicians and their families have become so deeply rooted in the Portland music scene that everybody feels bound by a larger nuclear family.

Kecskemethy's illness and departure hit home on a deeply personal level. It isn't just a musician who had taken ill, she said. It's as if a family member is facing a major medical crisis.

That's also why the award from Chamber Music America is so meaningful and timely. It's taken more than 40 years to earn it, but the wait is worth it, she added.

"They so richly deserve this," Halpert said. "They just relate to the audience so very well when they play. And they relate to each other. It's wonderful to watch them play. They really have a warm feeling toward the audience and each other. They smile a lot. That's important -- besides knowing all the notes."

Although Sunday's award ceremony doubles as a concert that is part of the PSQ season series, the quartet will mostly observe.

The concert, which begins at 2 p.m., will feature a former student, Patrick Doane of Kennebunk, and his Spelaeus String Quartet. Doane is a Juilliard School graduate who attended several PSQ summer workshops at Colby College and studied privately with Lantz for many years.

Also on Sunday, the quartet will release a new CD featuring live performances from recent years -- all of which include Kecskemethy. Among his final official acts with the quartet, Kecskemethy spent many hours listening to recordings from over the years with Adams, and the CD reflects some of his choices.

Because the Portland String Quartet has been in Portland so long, it might be natural for local audiences to take it for granted, said Lioi of Chamber Music America.

The Portland classical music community, and by extension the entire state because of the quartet's outreach efforts, are lucky a quartet of this caliber opted to stay in one place for so long, she said. Most quartets would have moved on to bigger cities and better professional opportunities.

"Those of us of a certain age have seen and continue to see the world change so rapidly. The communication is so quick and electronic. Our phones are talking to us, our cars are talking to us," she said. "I think it's important to stop for a moment and recognize the significance of the long-lasting relationship and long-lasting exposure to excellent music between this quartet and its community.

"That is not something that everybody has the opportunity to experience. I am very envious of the people of Portland. It's very special and unusual."

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

Twitter: pphbkeyes


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Additional Photos

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Portland String Quartet's newest member, violinist Dean Stein

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Violist Julia Adams

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Cellist Paul Ross

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Violinist Ron Lantz with former first chair violinist Steve Kecskemethy in the background

John Ewing/Staff Photographer


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