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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 30, 2014

Contemporary chamber music in one of Portland’s hippest settings: Portland Chamber Music Festival at SPACE

Written by: Bob Keyes
Violinist Charles Dimmick, 36, balances multiple commitments to a half-dozen orchestras and chamber ensembles. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

Violinist Charles Dimmick, 36, balances multiple commitments to a half-dozen orchestras and chamber ensembles. Whitney Hayward/Staff Photographer

In Portland, we know Charles Dimmick for his work as concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

In Providence, they know him as assistant concertmaster of the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

In his adopted hometown of Boston, he’s known for his work as concertmaster of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project – or as a guest with Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Ballet or the Boston Pops.

Next week, the 36-year-old violinist appears with the Portland Chamber Music Festival, which presents “Handshakes, Songs, and Dances” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at SPACE Gallery in Portland.

The concert originally was scheduled for spring but was postponed when one of the musicians got sick.

It’s a program of contemporary chamber music, presented in a casual bar setting and featuring a quartet of the busiest musicians in the Northeast.

Dimmick balances multiple commitments to a half-dozen orchestras and chamber ensembles.

Violist Ralph Farris is best known for his work in Ethel, a New York-based string quartet, and also works on Broadway and as an arranger of music for films.

Gabriela Diaz teaches violin at Wellesley College and plays with ensembles large and small across the region.

Cellist Jennifer Lucht studies in Boston and plays with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. Lucht also co-directs the Carolina Chamber Music Festival in New Bern, North Carolina, and performs nationally.

They’re all busy and carve out time for gigs like the one at SPACE because it’s fun to play.

“It’s profound and groovy music, presented in Portland’s hippest concert venue, performed by some crazy-awesome musicians,” Farris said in an email.

They will perform three string quartets.

First up is “Ramshackle Songs” by Rome Prize winner Dan Visconti. He wrote the piece in 2009 and was inspired by Tin Pan Alley, with hints of Gershwin and Berlin.

Scott Ordway, a visiting composer at Bates College in Lewiston, wrote “Handshakes” in 2010 as an homage to famous composers. It’s a series of micro-works.

Closing out the program is John Adams’ “John’s Book of Alleged Dances,” which includes prepared piano parts that will be looped on CD.

The concert is the latest in a series of casual club dates by the Portland Chamber Festival. It boasts a laid-back atmosphere and programming that explores new music in various forms.

On the Portland Chamber Festival

– Seeing Charles Dimmick perform with the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium and seeing him perform with a string quartet are two completely different experiences.

– The orchestra might include up to 80 musicians depending on the piece that’s being played. As orchestra concertmaster, Dimmick sits to the left of maestro Robert Moody and helps him lead the orchestra musically and artistically.

– As a member of a string quartet, he is one of four musicians, joined by another violin, a viola and cello.

– Chamber ensembles perform music composed for a small group of instruments, whereas orchestra music is far more layered and lush to take advantage of the range of instruments and musical depth of several dozen musicians.

– Many classical music fans prefer chamber music because it’s more personable and social.

Following the performance, festival artistic director Jennifer Elowitch will moderate a Q&A with the musicians.

The quartet will set up on stage and play to an audience seated in front. The bar will be open, and the audience is encouraged to make a casual evening out of the music.

Gigs like Wednesday’s concert at Space give audiences a chance to hear Dimmick and his pals up close and personal, while allowing the musicians to express a different side of their creativity.

“Concerts like these are hugely important artistically and immensely satisfying,” he said over coffee at Speckled Ax. “They present different challenges and call on us to use different skill sets, but they’re part of what we do and an important part of how we make a living.”

Dimmick lives in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston with his wife, Rachel Baude, who plays piccolo in the PSO and the Rhode Island Phil. They met during PSO auditions in 1999. Both were hired, and their lives have been entwined since.

They have a daughter who is almost 4.

“We do almost all the same things, so for the most part we’re in the same place at the same time,” Dimmick said.

Because they both play in Portland and Providence, they build their schedules around those commitments, filling in other dates while balancing creative desires with domestic obligations.

They’re learning how to say no, but every week is busy, Dimmick said.

“I had a week off at the end of August this year, and that was the first week in about two years that I didn’t have anything,” Dimmick said. “We’re always busy.”

Gigs like Wednesday’s at Space notwithstanding, they try to be at home together as a family most weeknights. “We’re not that different from a lot of other people,” Dimmick said. “We put our daughter to bed around 8 and we each practice until 10 or 11 and see each other then.”

Making a living playing music is a challenging but rewarding lifestyle, Diaz said. Music was vital to her, and became even more important during her treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. She used music as a motivation during her treatment.

“I knew that as soon as I was well, I had to do my best to become a professional musician,” she said. She performs in several Boston-area ensembles, and enjoys playing contemporary music.

Added Farris, “As an artist it’s a given that you’ll be working your tail off. It’s a juggling act.”


WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday; doors open at 7 p.m.
WHERE: Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $15; $13 students

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