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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: April 5, 2017

Back Cove music festival opens Friday, for the first time without its founder

Written by: Bob Keyes
Organist Harold Stover will open the Back Cove Festival with a musical tribute to festival founder Elliott Schwartz composed by Mark DeVoto. Photos courtesy of Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

Organist Harold Stover will open the Back Cove Festival with a musical tribute to festival founder Elliott Schwartz composed by Mark DeVoto.
Photos courtesy of Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

This will be the first year of the Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival without the physical presence of its founder, Elliott Schwartz. The Maine composer, who died in December, was the principal force behind the festival.

Schwartz will be there in spirit when the festival begins its ninth season on Friday.

The festival opens with a U.S. premiere of Schwartz’s String Quartet No. 3, “Portrait for Deedee,” his last major work before he died. It is a tribute to his late wife, Dorothy, performed by the Portland String Quartet. On the same program, Schwartz gets his own tribute in a piece for organ and piano by Mark DeVoto, featuring Harold Stover on the Woodfords Congregational Church organ.

Organized by the Portland Conservatory of Music, the festival begins Friday and continues through Sunday. Concerts on Friday and Saturday are at the conservatory’s Woodfords home, and the Sunday concert is at Space Gallery in downtown Portland.

The Back Cove festival is the latest classical music festival to try to take advantage of Space’s downtown location and its diverse audience and progressive programming.

Sunday’s focus is on the spoken word, which ties in to National Poetry Month. “We’re making an effort to reach out to downtown Portland and the downtown community,” said Philip Carlsen, the festival’s director, who was tabbed by Schwartz as his successor. “The people who attend at Space are people our program will appeal to. With programming involving spoken word, it seemed natural. Space is such an inter-disciplinary venue.”

 Mark Tipton

Mark Tipton

Betsy Sholl, a past Maine Poet Laureate, will read with musicians Gary Wittner and Jim Cameron. Former conservatory director Mark Tipton’s quartet, Les Sorciers Perdus, performs with Down East poet Alan Brooks. Carlsen wrote a setting for a poem by Robert Bringhurst, which the musicians speak while they play. There are compositions by Josh DeScherer and Josh Newton, and a video and improvisational piece by Gustavo Aguilar and Bill Matthews.

This is Carlsen’s second year as director. He’s put together a three-concert program of new music written by nearly 20 New England composers, many of whom will attend.

In addition to the piece by Schwartz and the tribute to him, Friday’s program showcases the Portland Piano Trio with new pieces by Stephanie Ann Boyd, Delvyn Case, Francis Kayali and Nancy Gunn.

Saturday’s program pays tribute to other artists lost in 2016: Bill Matthew’s string quartet “Lux aeterna” for Maine dancer Marcy Plavin and a performance by Maine university students of pieces by avant-garde pioneer Pauline Oliveros. The concert also includes chamber music for strings, winds, piano and solo guitar by John Newell, Bruce Fithian, Vin Shende, Gregory Hall, Jesse Feinberg and Colby College students Liam Butchart and Colleen Wright.

Portland Conservatory of Music’s Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

WHEN & WHERE: Concerts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Saturday at the conservatory home at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St., Portland, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $15 per concert, free for children and students with ID; 775-3356 or

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