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

Vermel called Kesckemethy's departure sad and very unfortunate, and saluted the four founding members for their loyalty both to the group and to each other.

"The fact that they have remained friends all through these years is really quite unusual. It's like a marriage, but with four partners. It's really wonderful," he said.


Kecskemethy's last performance with the quartet was in December 2011. He was in great pain during that performance, and received his diagnosis soon after.

The quartet made arrangements to play the remainder of its concert season with heavy hearts and guest artists. This season, it performed under the series title "PSQ and Friends" to allow flexibility while it continued its search for a replacement.

For a while, it debated continuing as a trio or perhaps disbanding altogether.

"We thought about a lot of things," Ross said. "We thought about continuing as a trio. We also wondered if this might be the end. But we still had music to make together, and Steve encouraged us to continue. This is what we know and what we do."

It took a full year to name a replacement for Kecskemethy. But although Stein was not officially named as his replacement until this past January, he was a leading candidate from the start of the process.

He is a seasoned player as both a soloist and chamber musician, and has lived in Maine since 1996. He began performing in Maine as a teenager in the 1970s when he attended summer camps for string musicians at Orono.

He also spent six summers at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, and has performed with the DaPonte String Quartet.

"It's an incredible honor," said Stein, who was born in 1960 at the beginning of the decade when the quartet began performing. "I joined when this quartet was facing the most difficult decision a quartet can go through. To lose a beloved member is an unthinkable change."

While all the members participate equally and govern themselves in a democratic way, Kecskemethy filled a special niche in the group. Aside from being the tallest member, he was also its gentlest.

The warmth of his personality, the quiet nature of his laugh and his easy rapport with the audience gave the quartet much of its personality. As first chair, he also filled a large musical role.

His colleagues said he was superb in that role because of his ability to project his personality through his playing.

"It was a fusion of soloist and chamber musician that overall reflected his love and even idealism of the ensemble," Adams said.

Inevitably, the music will sound different with Stein in the first chair, Lantz said. There will be a different chemistry and different feel for both the musicians and the audience. Each musician has his own style, and it's impossible and unreasonable to expect that Stein will take over for Kecskemethy without the quartet changing.

"We don't have Steve, but we have something different," Lantz said.

Added Ross, "We're going to meld and change. You get used to playing it a certain way. It's maybe going to be harder for the three of us to change than the other way around. We're not expecting Dean to be just like Steve."

Kecskemethy was involved in the discussions for selecting his replacement, and endorsed Stein. "We all talked about who it should be, and it came right out -- 'Let's give Dean a call.' It was a logical thing to do," he said. "He is such a fine musician. It was absolutely the right thing to do."


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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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