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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: May 14, 2018

The Back Cove music festival moves downtown

Written by: Bob Keyes

Philip Carlsen and his cello.
Photo courtesy of the artist

The Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival is now a misnomer. For the first time in its 10-year history, the festival moves to downtown Portland, with concerts at the Mechanics Hall, First Parish Church, Space Gallery and Maine College of Art. The festival begins Friday and continues through Sunday, with four concerts.

Sponsored by the Portland Conservatory of Music, festival concerts have mostly been at the conservatory’s home at Woodfords Congregational Church, near Back Cove. The festival has had an occasional concert at Space and wanted to fully move to downtown “where more of the action is,” said festival director Philip Carlsen.

Francis Kayali (left) with two students in the Karger College Prep program, along with the director of the program, Jeff Christmas.
Photo courtesy of the Portland Conservatory of Music.

New venues are the most obvious evolution in the festival’s brief history, but not the only notable change this year. Francis Kayali, composer-in-residence for the Portland Conservatory’s Karger College Prep Division, has written four new pieces for the students, visiting the conservatory every few weeks from his home in Manchester, New Hampshire, to coach the students. Those pieces will be performed by the students in the Sunday evening concert at the Bob Crewe Gallery at MECA. There will also be a new composition by one of the students, a trio for violin, piano and guitar.

Also on Sunday evening, Ling-Wen Tsai, a professor of sculpture, will perform a collaborative piece with guitarist and composer Nathan Kolosko. In addition, several composers will contribute new electronic compositions inspired by Bob Crewe’s legacy as a songwriter and visual artist, Carlsen said.

Ling-Wen Tsai
Photo courtesy of the artist

Sunday night’s concert will celebrate the legacy of Crewe, a principal songwriter for the Four Seasons who moved to Maine before his death in 2014. Pieces by Steve Drown, Bill Matthews and Keith Kramer will sample Crewe’s songs. Kramer’s piece draws inspiration from Crewe’s artwork on the walls of the gallery. The concert ends with several songs from Eric Sawyer’s “Thirteen Popular Songs,” an homage to the Crewe and his contributions to the American Songbook.

“How appropriate, also, that the concert, taking place in an educational institution whose music program was endowed by the Crewe Foundation, also includes performances of new music by talented high school musicians,” Carlsen said.

Several established ensembles will be appear on the festival: the Portland Piano Trio, the Moreau/VanTuinen euphonium and percussion duo, the Resinosa Ensemble (Joelle Coleman Morris, mezzo-soprano; Bridget Convey, piano; and Eliza Meyer, cello), St. Mary Schola chamber choir, Mark Tipton’s quartet Les Sorciers Perdus, and the debut of a new sextet called Seven Seasons, conducted by composer Delvyn Case.

In general, the festival presents an array of new chamber music by two dozen composers from Maine and northern New England, all of whom are expected to attend the festival and introduce their pieces.

The first concert is 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Mechanics Hall, which recently acquired a community piano. That concert marks the debut of Seven Seasons, a recently-formed sextet devoted to new music conducted by Case. They will perform works by Bruce Fithian, Dan Godfrey, Marianna Filippi, Greg Hall and Jesse Feinberg.

The second concert, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at First Parish Church, includes organ music written and performed by Harold Stover, as well as Fithian’s a cappella “Gothic Lord’s Prayer,” sung by the choir he has directed for the past decade, the St. Mary Schola. The Moreau/VanTuinen Duo premieres three pieces for euphonium and percussion written for them by Justin Rito, Margaret McAllister and Philip Carlsen.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Space Gallery hosts what Carlsen calls “genre-bending programming.” Several composer-soloists will perform with electronic enhancements: clarinetist Beth Wiemann with vocoder, bassoonist Leslie Ross with Max MSP software, and singer-songwriter Jerusha Neely accompanying herself on cello with looping pedal. Neely will also perform in a piece for cello and electronics by Space’s music programmer, Peter McLaughlin. Another soloist, bass player Josh Descherer, will incorporate homemade soundmakers into his composition. The bass flutist Carl Dimow, without electronic tweaking, “will push his instrument into unexpected territory,” Carlsen said. And Carlsen offers a new played-and-spoken string trio based on the poetry of Robert Bringhurst, and Tipton’s quartet, Les Sorciers Perdus, will perform with what Carlsen called an “improvisatory spirit.”

The final concert, at 7 p.m. Sunday, moves to MECA and the Crewe Gallery.

Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

7:30 p.m. Friday at the Mechanics Hall, 519 Congress St.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, First Parish Church, 425 Congress St.
2 p.m. Sunday, Space Gallery, 538 Congress St.
7 p.m. Sunday, Bob Crewe Gallery, Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St.
HOW MUCH: $15 per concert, $40 for a festival pass; students and children, free
INFO: (207) 775-3356,

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