Dean Stein was teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro when he first heard “The Juliet Letters,” a 1993 collaboration between rock-and-roller Elvis Costello and the Brodsky String Quartet, a classical ensemble that provided all the musical backing.
A classical musician with an interest in all music, Stein was immediately taken by the unlikely but perfectly compatible mixture of musicians, as well as the writing and musicianship. Costello and the Brodsky musicians wrote the music and lyrics together as a concept album, or song cycle, that tells its stories based on imaginary letters to Juliet. Each letter is its own song, and they include a love letter, a letter home from war, a letter from a child to her divorcing parents, a letter from an old woman coming to terms with her life.
Stein listened obsessively, and in many ways the CD changed his life because it demonstrated that he didn’t have to limit his musical interests to his classical training. A young musician just starting his career, he vowed then that someday he would find a way to perform “The Juliet Letters.” Thanks to his buddy Joe Boucher, that day is coming on Saturday. Performing at the Rose Quintet, with Boucher on vocals and Stein playing violin, they will recreate the Costello-Brodsky collaboration in a concert at Space Gallery in Portland.
In addition to Boucher and Stein, the Rose Quintet includes Caroline Cornish on violin, Julia Adams on viola and Kevin Oates on cello. As a side business to his work as concert manager with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Boucher creates orchestral pop concerts. He’s been performing “Piano Men – The Music of Elton and Billy” since 2011, and in 2016, he premiered “Classic Rock” with the PSO. As he says, he’s producing the Rose Quintet as a side project to his side project.
Stein and Adams perform with the Portland String Quartet; Cornish, a former TV news host, plays with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra; and Oates is director of the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra.
Boucher had much the same reaction to the Costello-Brodsky collaboration as Stein. It opened his mind to the possibilities of mixing genres of music and making something new and different.
Boucher and Stein began talking about this project five or six years ago. They were discussing all the ways classical music is used in contemporary culture, and the Costello-Brodsky project came up. When they realized their shared passion for the project, they began talking about working on it together. In addition to the concert at Space on Saturday, the Rose Quintet will perform Aug. 11 at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison.
“It’s not about imitating the recording,” Stein said. “It’s about really feeling the music and telling a beautiful story.”
WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $10 advance, $12 day of show