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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: October 24, 2017

This year’s Early Music Festival will feel a little like jazz

Written by: Bob Keyes
Petra Poláčková will perform on a 9-string Romantic guitar made by Czech luthier Jan Tuláček. Photo courtesey of Portland Conservatory of Music

Petra Poláčková will perform on a 9-string Romantic guitar made by Czech luthier Jan Tuláček.
Photo courtesey of Portland Conservatory of Music

One of the challenges of playing early music is figuring out the intentions of the composer. Many musical scores from the Renaissance and Baroque periods leave much unsaid, aside from the notes and instrumentation. There often are no indications of tempo, phrasing or fingering, leaving much to the interpretation of the musicians and conductor.

At this weekend’s Early Music Festival hosted by the Portland Conservatory of Music at Woodfords Congregational Church, festival director Timothy Burris is empowering his musicians to explore their understanding of early music and their creative impulses.

The early scores “leave us somewhat in the dark, but that’s also very liberating,” Burris said. “It encourages us to do our research and to listen to the music and to respond to what the sounds are telling us.”

It’s up the musicians to balance their sense of musical adventure with their musical knowledge. In that sense, it’s a little like jazz.

The festival begins Friday night and continues with concerts Saturday and Sunday, each day with a distinct program.

For Friday night, Burris has programmed what he calls “Music for Broken Consort.” The name refers to the musical expression of England in the 1600s that involved instruments of various types, including lutes, violins and viols, as opposed to music made with instruments of the same family. Burris has recruited seven musicians, and the program includes music by William Lawes, Matthew Locke and Thomas Morley, among others. In addition to the ensemble pieces are unaccompanied solo pieces for gamba, lute and violin.

Saturday’s program is dedicated to music written for two tenors, which Burris said was a rarity in the Baroque or any other period. “But those that survive are passionate and virtuosic,” he said. The program includes the double-tenor duet by Claudio Monteverdi known as “Zefiro torna,” the best-known of the bunch. Burris called the improvisatory style of singing “the jazz of its day.” The featured tenors are Martin Lescault and Timothy Neill Johnson.

Sunday’s concert will feature the Czech guitarist Petra Poláčková, who plays a copy of a 19th-century nine-string guitar. Burris saw her on YouTube and was impressed with her style and musicality. “She’s just magical,” he said.

Portland Early Music Festival

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Portland Conservatory of Music, Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $30 per concert, $75 for a festival pass
INFO: 775-3356,

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