The Borromeo String Quartet will perform two concerts during the upcoming Winter Warmer Festival. From left to right: Kristopher Tong (violin), Yeesun Kim (cello), Melissa Reardon (viola), Nicholas Kitchen (violin). Photo by Jürgen Frank and courtesy of the Portland Chamber Music Festival.

What chamber music sounds like winter?

The organizers of the inaugural Winter Warmer Festival hope to answer that question.

For 30 years, the Portland Chamber Music Festival has hosted a series of summer concerts that draw musicians and audiences from around the world. This year, the nonprofit will add a winter festival for the first time. It hopes to attract guests who are unable to attend a concert during the busy days of August in Maine.

“We identified an opportunity to reach more people, particularly local folks and particularly students,” executive director Alice Kornhauser said.

The Winter Warmer Festival will run March 7-9. The program includes an artist talk, two mainstage concerts and a public masterclass for young people from the Maine Suzuki Association. The festival is also organizing private community events, such as a rehearsal concert at a retirement community in Falmouth and a school performance in Portland. If successful, the event could become a tradition in the same spirit as the summer festival.

“Our hope is that this new winter festival will grow,” artistic director Melissa Reardon said. “I’m really excited that we have this opportunity to spend a little bit more time with our community in Portland, playing great music.”


Reardon plays the viola in the Borromeo String Quartet, which will perform both concerts at the festival. So far, interest has been strong.

“From the day we announced it, sales have been steady,” Kornhauser said. “Every day, we’re seeing people buying tickets.”

Violist Melissa Reardon instructs Maine Suzuki Association students in a masterclass at Hannaford Hall in Portland in March 2023. Photo courtesy of the Portland Chamber Music Festival.


The Winter Warmer Festival will begin March 7 with a free noontime talk at the Portland Public Library.

Violinist Nicholas Kitchen, a member of the Borromeo String Quartet, will give a presentation about his study of the original manuscripts by the composer Béla Bartók.

“He loves to get into the historical background of a work and how composers put things together and to see how their creative process unfolds,” Reardon said. “One of the things that’s fascinating is knowing the works that we hear underwent so much transformation in the process before they were put out into the public, and Nick has access to the manuscripts and has seen drafts of works that got chosen and other drafts that got rejected. It’s like seeing the sketches before you see the painting.”


That evening, the Borromeo String Quartet will give a concert at Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland, and the program will include a string quartet by Bartók. That event will also include question-and-answer session with the musicians after the performance.

Saturday will begin with a masterclass for students from the Maine Suzuki Association, which the public can observe for free. Engaging with students is a major goal for the festival, one that is often not possible during the summer months. Young performers will play and receive feedback from Reardon, who said she hopes to connect with the next generation of musicians.

“I love that interaction with students and being able to work with them and hopefully give them some encouragement,” Reardon said. “It’s an amazing way of giving back and connecting and hopefully giving them something to look forward to and some ideas to work with moving forward.”

On Saturday afternoon, the final concert of the festival will again feature the Borromeo String Quartet, and guest musician Kim Kashkashian will join the musicians for a string quintet. The Grammy-winning violist (“arguably the most famous violist in the world,” Kornhauser said) has never performed at the festival before. That event will be followed by a complimentary reception.

Violist Kim Kashkashian will join the Borromeo String Quartet in concert on March 9. Photo by Steve Riskind and courtesy of the Portland Chamber Music Festival.

“To have artists of this caliber who have this relationship with Portland now through Melissa is really an extraordinary thing,” Kornhauser said. “They travel and perform all over the world, and they are in demand and making recordings and winning Grammys, and you can come to a concert and then hang out with them in the lobby afterward and have a cookie and ask them really anything you want about life and music. It’s pretty special.”

Kornhauser said she hopes many students who attend or observe the masterclass will stick around for the later performance. Tickets are always free for ages 21 and under. The festival experimented with this format last year – a masterclass in the morning and a concert in the afternoon – and saw more students take advantage of the free tickets than for the entire summer concert series.



Organizers specifically chose music for this festival that would reflect the season.

The first concert will feature Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5 and Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127. Reardon said the first is considered by many to be “the most difficult, the most virtuosic and the most physically demanding” of the composer’s string quartets. The festival has also never programmed a string quartet by Beethoven before.

“This concert, I feel like is the ‘warmer’ part of ‘winter warmer,'” Kornhauser said. “Everything feels like big and warm, sitting in front of the fireplace and watching the flames dance and sparks flying.”

The second will include “Intimate Voices,” a string quartet by Jean Sibelius. Reardon said the piece is very informed by the composer’s roots in Finland. Kashkashian will join the Borromeo String Quartet to perform a string quintet by Anton Bruckner – “the only viola quartet that he wrote and maybe the only piece of chamber music that he wrote,” Reardon said.

Kornhauser said the first piece feels like “this wintry landscape,” while the second is imbued with the “bigness and warmth” of the orchestral pieces for which Bruckner is more famous.

“The Sibelius is like going cross-country skiing, and the Bruckner is like having hot chocolate after,” she said.

“It’s one of the things that we thought and talked about,” Kornhauser added. “What’s the difference between the summer season and the winter season from an artistic standpoint? What do we want to be presenting for the maximum enjoyment and appreciation? What’s happening in the world? What kind of moods are people in. It’s very profound music. It’s music you can really sink into.”

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: