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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: November 12, 2018

Portland Chamber Music Festival premieres a new piece of music inspired by sculpture

Written by: Bob Keyes

Portland Chamber Music Festival executive director Melissa Reardon in a gallery at the Portland Museum of Art.
Photo by Mical Hutson, courtesy of the Portland Chamber Music Festival

Soon after being named artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, Melissa Reardon spent several hours in the Portland Museum of Art as part of an informal cultural tour of the city.

Among other things that day, she thought about exploring ways to collaborate with the museum on programming that would be interesting for the audiences of both organizations. She also noted an advertisement for a then-upcoming exhibition by the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi – now on view at the PMA.

This week, the Portland Chamber Music Festival premieres a piece of music it commissioned, inspired by Noguchi, in concerts Thursday at Space Gallery and Friday at the PMA. In her first season succeeding the festival’s founding director Jennifer Elowitch, Reardon checks off two priority boxes: collaboration and commission.

At about that same time she visited the museum, Reardon, a violist, performed a concert in a barn in Iowa with the cellist and composer Paul Wiancko. On their flight home to New York, they talked about their instruments and their relationships. Reardon is married to a cellist, Raman Ramakrishnan, and Wiancko’s partner is the violist Ayane Kozasa.

“We began daydreaming about the sonority of two violas and two cellos,” Reardon said. “To my knowledge, there’s no repertoire for that combination.”

Taking on a challenge by Reardon, Wiancko, a Japanese-American, composed “Vox Petra” for two violas and two cellos and used the sculpture of Noguchi as a framework, finding resonance in its brashness and unabashedness.

“I approached this composition as an extension of the way Noguchi approached stone – with a sense of absolute freedom despite working within a medium with strict limitations,” Wiancko wrote in a statement. “Additionally, much of Noguchi’s sculpture feels as if it turns inwardly on itself while still emotionally and aesthetically transforming the space around it – like nature itself. This piece aspires to that fundamental balance, attempting to look within itself in order to outwardly express something powerful. Essentially, it is music that Noguchi’s stone sculptures might sing if they had a voice.”

Friday’s concert at the PMA begins at 6 p.m., includes only “Vox Petra,” and is free.

Thursday’s concert at Space, at 7:30 p.m., includes a full program of music that features the viola and cello, with “Vox Petra” as the centerpiece. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Thursday’s program is titled “Searching for Home,” a reference to the relationships between the music on the program and identity, as well as the migratory nature of the four musicians. All four are children of immigrants, with parents from Japan (Wiancko and Kozasa), India (Ramakrishnan) and the Philippines (Reardon).

The Thursday concert will open with “Limestone and Felt,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw, and progress with a viola duo by George Benjamin, a set of Swedish folk songs, music by Nico Muhly and more.

“Vox Petra” is the third piece of music commissioned by the Portland Chamber Music Festival. Previously, it commissioned Eric Chasalow to write a string sextet and Peter Askim to write a trio for double bass, violin and viola.

Portland Chamber Music Festival’s “Searching for Home”

WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: $15 in advance, $18 day of show; $13 seniors and students
INFO: space53.org or pcmf.org

“Play/Sculpture”

WHERE: Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
HOW MUCH: Free
ON VIEW: “Beyond the Pedestal: Isamu Noguchi and the Borders of Sculpture” through Jan. 6.

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