The Portland Chamber Music Festival will return with in-person performances in August, offering a distilled version of the festival that will include a “secret” program of music designed to encourage people to listen with open minds and open ears.

Melissa Reardon, artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival. Courtesy of Portland Chamber Music Festival

The festival has considered performing a concert without telling the audience what it would be hearing ahead of time, and decided this was the year to embrace the unknown, said Melissa Reardon, the festival’s artistic director.

“We have always wanted to have people come in with no preconceived notion of what the music will be or should be and have a pure experience with the music. This is the time to do it. There will be something personal and maybe even a little more emotional connection with the piece,” she said.

The musicians will describe the music included in the festival’s Revelations concert on Aug. 21 at Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, but the audience won’t know who wrote it or in what era or context until after the performance, when they will receive programs that will describe what they just heard.

This idea predated the pandemic, but the pandemic contributed to the timing, Reardon said.

“We all struggled with no many unknowns this past year. It changed everyone’s thinking about so many things. This idea of facing some kind of unknown and coming to terms with it is something we’ve all had to do,” she said. “But this is not a scary unknown. It’s an opportunity to explore.”

This year’s festival will run one week instead of its usual two, from Aug. 15-21, and will include a benefit concert Aug. 15 at Cove Street Arts, a Homecoming concert Aug. 19 and the Revelations concert Aug. 21, both at Hannaford Hall. The benefit at Cove Street Arts will be a cocktail party with live music, including the pairing of Reardon and her predecessor, festival co-founder and Portland native Jennifer Elowitch.

The Aug. 19 concert will include four centuries of celebratory music, written by Arnold Bax, J.S. Bach, Reena Esmail, Camille Saint-Saëns and others. The concerts will last about an hour and be performed without intermission. This year’s concerts also will be livestreamed on the festival’s YouTube channel.

After an all-remote festival last year, Reardon is eager to make and share music with people in a room together.

“I am sort of pinching myself. The idea of having people come together in one place sure is exciting. We couldn’t do that last year,” she said, describing the clumsy experience of performing and recording remotely. “It was an interesting experience and in some ways a very challenging experience, but not the same as being in a room with other musicians and having spontaneous reactions and interactions” with each other and the audience.

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