The Borromeo String Quartet, from left, Nicholas Kitchen, Yessum Kim, Melissa Reardon and Kristopher Tong, will play at USM’s Hannaford Hall on Saturday. Photo by Jurgen Frank

Melissa Reardon, artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, played for a dozen years in the Enso String Quartet, an ensemble that toured all over the world and even earned a Grammy nomination before disbanding in 2018.

“For me, playing in a quartet is a dream job,” she said. “After my last experience finished, it was hard. I wasn’t sure another opportunity would come along.”

The best quartets often keep the same lineup for years and years. The individual musicians become so familiar with each other that their sounds blend seamlessly. So, when the opportunity to join another revered quartet came around in the summer, Reardon was both excited and a little nerve-racked.

Now, with several months and dozens of performances behind them, the new lineup of the Boston-based Borromeo String Quartet – with Reardon on viola – will visit Portland on Saturday for a show at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall.

The program includes selections from 18th century Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, Hungarian Bela Bartok, one of the most influential composers of the early 20th century, and Claude DeBussy, a Frenchman whose career straddled the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“I’m still pinching myself every day that I’m doing this,” Reardon said.


She first heard the quartet as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in the mid-1990s with its original lineup but has followed the ensemble closely and gotten to know its members.

Founding members Nicholas Kitchen on violin and Yeesun Kim on cello are still with the quartet. The fourth member, Kristopher Tong, also on violin, joined 16 years ago and had been a student with Reardon at New England Conservatory.

The quartet is highly sought after for its interpretations of classical pieces but also for championing work of contemporary composers.

“Joining an established quartet is a bit like entering a family. They have a history together and style of working,” she said.

Reardon, though, is every bit as decorated. She’s been a soloist in the Boston Symphony and the East Carolina Symphony and is a founding member of the East Coast Chamber Orchestra, which played last year’s Portland Chamber Music Festival in August. The annual event brings world-class musicians to Maine for a series of performances.

Reardon was hired to take over artistic direction of the festival in 2018, succeeding founder Jennifer Elowitch. She is also artist-in-residence at Bard College in New York, where she lives and where her husband, cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, is a faculty member.

As part of the upcoming performance, and in keeping with the Portland festival’s mission of educating the next generation of chamber musicians, Reardon also will lead a master class for students from the Maine Suzuki Association on Saturday morning before the concert. The association is a nonprofit group of musicians that teach the Suzuki method, which approaches teaching music like an immersion language class.

“Teaching has been such a part of my professional life,” Reardon said. “I love working with students and helping them figure out the trigger that’s going to unlock information or the excitement for them.

“Teaching also refines your own thinking about how you go about playing … so I find I’m learning more myself when I’m teaching others.”

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