At 2:30 this afternoon at Merrill Auditorium, the Portland Symphony Orchestra will push itself as hard and stretch itself as far as it has been pushed or stretched since Robert Moody took over as music director three years ago. Under Moody’s direction and with guest musicians, vocalists and the Masterworks Chorus of the Choral Art Society, the orchestra will present the epic choral piece, the Passion According to St. John by J. S. Bach.

Written nearly 300 years ago, the Passion stands as one of the most vivid and important works of the baroque era. It demands the most of musicians who perform it and vocalists who sing it. Moody has performed it three times — as a musician and vocalist, but never as a conductor. He has said that until recently, he lacked the authority in his conducting to tackle a piece of music so monumental.

Bach wrote the Passion as a setting for the New Testament text that describes the final days of the life of Christ.

A preconcert discussion begins at 1:15 p.m. in the Merrill rehearsal hall.

Tickets range from $17 to $56 through PortTix; 842-0800 or


This week

At 2 p.m. Feb. 6, the Portland String Quartet presents two of the great monuments of the string quartet genre, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden,” his quartet in D minor, and the Shostakovich Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op.110.

Tragedy twines the two masterpieces. The Shostakovich piece bears witness to the suffocation of the creative spirit during the years of the Soviet Union. The composer struggles to affirm his relevance and his artistic integrity.

The theme of Schubert’s variation movement speaks to the tragedy of life cut short, a fate that befell its composer. Schubert never heard this work performed or knew the public acclaim it was to achieve.

The concert will be at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodfords St., Portland. A preconcert talk begins at 1 p.m.

Tickets cost $22, $20 for seniors. Anyone 21 or younger gets in free.


Coming up

The DaPonte String Quartet will play Schubert (A Minor quartet, “Rosamunde”), Beethoven (Op. 135), and Webern (“Langsamer Satz”) in concerts at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at St. Andrews Church, Newcastle; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at St. Mary’s Church, Falmouth; and 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at United Methodist Church, Brunswick.

Tickets cost $22, $18 seniors and are free for 21 and younger. Tickets will be available at the door or in advance at Maine Coast Book Shop, Damariscotta; Gulf of Maine Books, Brunswick; Books Etc. and The Book Review, Falmouth; and Longfellow Books, Portland.

Visit or call 529-4555 for information.