Members of the Enescu Octet perform at USM’s Hannaford Hall during the 2019 Portland Chamber Music Festival. Photo by Aaron Flacke

As it attempts to lure back audiences still cautious from the pandemic, the Portland Chamber Music Festival has made some slight changes in its 29th year.

For the first time, the festival will have an ensemble-in-residence, the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, whose members will anchor two of the four main concerts at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine campus.

That orchestra is made of up more than two dozen musicians from throughout the East Coast – many of whom belong to other renowned orchestras or chamber music groups – who convene for various performances each year. Four members of the orchestra – violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel, violist Liz Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough – perform as the renowned Jupiter String Quartet.

The festival also will host the string trio Time for Three, made up of Nicolas Kendall, Charles Yang and Ranaan Meyer, whose sound blurs classical and pop boundaries.

Festival executive director Alice Kornhauser said late last month that organizers still don’t know quite what to expect from this year’s event.

“Sales have been softer than in years past,” she said. “It’s not anything dramatic. I think over the past 10 years we’ve seen a trend toward later and later buying, so we may not know until we get to the date of each show.


“We have definitely amped up our efforts to bring in new audiences,” she added.

Raman Ramakrishnan (left, on cello) is one of several musicians returning to this year’s Portland Chamber Music Festival. Courtesy of Portland Chamber Music Festival.

The festival’s concerts for years have been free to those 21 and under as a way to encourage younger people to be exposed to classical music. New this year, the festival also is offering an introductory price of $25 for first-time attendees. That’s $20 less than a normal general admission ticket.

Chamber music is, in simplest terms, classical music without the orchestra, with each performer typically responsible for a part of the composition. Melissa Reardon, the festival artistic director, said chamber music is, to paraphrase German composer Gustav Mahler, “meant to be listened to in a small space by a small audience.”

“But beyond that, chamber music is the profound musicality that comes from ensembles that have been performing together for decades, and also the sparkling, spontaneous energy that comes from individual virtuoso performers playing together for the first time,” she said.

This year’s festival kicks off on Sunday with an annual benefit at Cove Street Arts in Portland that will feature musical performances.

The first main-stage program, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 11, will feature the East Coast Chamber Orchestra and pianist Henry Kramer, a Cape Elizabeth native. Additional concerts will be held on Aug. 13, 18 and 20 at Hannaford Hall. All of the main-stage concerts will be livestreamed for free.

A separate concert featuring Time for Three will be held on Friday, Aug. 19, at One Longfellow Square.

This year’s festival will offer a diverse mix of classical pieces from composers like Brahms and Tchaikovsky to more modern, experimental sounds.

“We have found Portland audiences are incredibly open and generous in their tastes,” Kornhauser said. “Everyone loves hearing something familiar, that they’ve heard before, like Schubert or a Beethoven symphony. That familiarly is something they will respond to. But from day one, we’ve presented contemporary music as part of our program, and we always get responses, even from people who don’t necessarily love it.”

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