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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: December 11, 2018

From Handel’s ‘Messiah’ to ‘Magic of Christmas,’ tons of classical music on tap

Written by: Bob Keyes

Lewis Kaplan
Photo courtesy of Bach Virtuosi Festival

A cherished event at the heart of New York’s holiday celebration will come to Maine next week, courtesy of the Bach Virtuosi Festival. The festival has rented out a theater at Cinemagic in Westbrook on Monday night and will rebroadcast on a large movie screen the performance of Handel’s Messiah from the evening before at Trinity Church in Manhattan. Several musicians who perform with the Bach Virtuosi Festival in Portland are among the musicians who will perform in New York.

Admission to Monday’s rebroadcast is free, said Lewis Kaplan, founder and director of the festival, scheduled for June 2-9. “People in Portland have opened up their houses to our artists and not only given them a room, but given them their heart,” he said. “This is by way of saying thank you.”

Portland audiences may recognize trumpeter John Thiessen and tenor Brian Giebler, who perform with the Bach Virtuosi Festival. Several members of the New York orchestra also are festival musicians, Kaplan said.

Experiencing the concert as a rebroadcast in a movie theater isn’t the same as experiencing it person, Kaplan said, but it’s still resounding and exciting. “There is an above-board and honest tie-in between the musicians of Trinity and the musicians of the Bach Virtuosi Festival, and this is a nice way to highlight them,” he said.

The idea of the rebroadcast in Maine came from the Rev. Canon Frank Harron, a supporter of the festival and former minister at Trinity Church in New York. “When he saw that several of our artists were performing the Messiah, he said, ‘How do we do this?’ We thought it was a great idea,” Kaplan said.

Music is especially important during stressful times, Kaplan said. He sees Monday’s gathering as an opportunity to come together as a community of friends and relax. “I was just saying to my wife and a couple of my students, I don’t know why, but no matter how troubled I am, no matter much is on my mind, when I start to teach and to play, everything just disappears,” he said. “Music is all-consuming. It is a balm. It is everything I could ask for.”

Kaplan, 85, will do some performing of his own while in Maine, his second home. A violinist, he will perform for congregants at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland on Sunday morning and later that day for residents at Ocean View in Falmouth. On Monday, the longtime artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival will talk with Maine Public classical music radio host Robin Rilette.

Rebroadcast of Handel’s Messiah from Trinity Church, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Cinemagic in Westbrook, 183 County Road, Westbrook; free; reservations at

Oratorio Chorale
Photo courtesy of Oratorio Chorale

Emily Isaacson and the Oratorio Chorale are back with their popular “Sing We Noel” concert, with five performances over two weekends, Friday and Saturday in Brunswick and Dec. 21 and 22 in Falmouth, This is the fifth year the chorale has presented the holiday program.

Organist Bruce Fithian and harpist Mo Nichols will join the chorale and the 30-member ensemble of singers Sweetest in the Gale. The concert will include sing-along carols and music by Monteverdi, Benjamin Britten, Stephen Paulus and others.

Fithian, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, is choirmaster and organist at the Church of St. Mary in Falmouth, where he also directs the early music ensemble, the St. Mary Schola. Isaacson, founder and artistic director of the Portland Bach Experience, was recently named 2018 Maine Artist of the Year and, in 2015 and 2018, won third place in the American Prize in Choral Conducting.

Oratorio Chorale’s “Sing We Noel,”

7 p.m. Friday and 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2 Pleasant St., Brunswick; 7 p.m. Dec. 21 and 2 p.m. Dec. 22, Episcopal Church of St. Mary, 43 Foreside Road, Falmouth; $20 adults, $5 ages 17 and younger, free for 2 and younger; advance tickets recommended through Brown Paper Tickets,  or or (207) 577-3931.

The Portland Piano Trio will play a program of youthful music, “When They Were Young,” all written when the composers were in their 20s, including the first Beethoven Trio, Op. 1 No. 1, “which has lots of fun, running notes,” said pianist Annie Antonacos. The concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mechanics’ Hall in Portland is free. There’s also a trio by Clara Schumann and a petite suite by Lucas Richman, music director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

The concert is a collaboration between trio members Antonacos and violinst Tracey Jasas-Harde and guest cellist Allison Eldredge of Newton, Massachusetts. Eldredge is appearing as part of the trio’s effort to collaborate with regional artists. Eldredge has won the Avery Fisher Career Grant and appeared with orchestras across the world, including the Academy of St. Marin-in-the-Fields and the Royal Philharmonic in London, the Berlin Symphony, the China National Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Pops.

She teaches Jasas-Harde’s daughter, and got to know Jasas-Harde through Portland-born musician Jennifer Elowitch, with whom Eldredge has performed often. This will be her first time performing with Jasas-Harde and Antonacos.

“I’m excited about all the pieces,” Eldredge said. “I’ve played the Beethoven over the years. In fact, that piece is nostalgic. It was the first piece I ever played as far as chamber music,” she said. “I think I was 11.”

She didn’t learn the entire trio, which was “too much for a little girl who had never played chamber music. But what an exciting experience. I have fond, fond feelings for it. It’s a great piece with youthful vitality.”

Clara Schumann was the wife of composer Robert Schumann, and is one of the best-known female composers in history. She and her husband had eight children, and Eldredge marvels at the hurdles Schumann had to overcome to balance her love of music with her obligations as a mother. “I don’t know how it was for a female composer, and even though she was the most famous female star in the classical world, I can imagine it was not the easiest thing to have your music performed,” she said. “It’s a real privilege to play her trio with these ladies.”

Portland Piano Trio

“When They Were Young,” 2 p.m. Sunday, Mechanics’ Hall, 519 Congress St., Portland; free;

Bruce Hangen, the original “Magic of Christmas” maestro, returns to the podium of the Portland Symphony Orchestra for this year’s run of 12 holiday concerts beginning this weekend at Merrill Auditorium.

Hangen, the orchestra’s musical director in 1980 when “Magic” began, is the artistic director and conductor of the Orchestra of Indian Hill in Littleton, Massachusetts, and director of orchestral activities of the Boston Conservatory. He is among the guest conductors helping the orchestra transition from its decade-long stewardship under maestro Robert Moody to that of his replacement, Eckart Preu, who begins his duties next season.

This year’s “Magic” guests include soprano Elisabeth Marshall and the Windham Chamber Singers, as well as the 100-member Magic of Christmas Chorus. Marshall is a past member of the Windham Chamber Singers, and she now sings across the country and overseas. She teaches at Ithaca College School of Music in New York and formerly taught at the University of Southern Maine. She has sung with Opera Maine, the Maine Music Society and the PSO as a previous “Magic of Christmas” guest.

In an interview with the Press Herald this fall, Hangen said the “Magic” concert would return to its roots. “I am going to bring back the down-home flavor and the tradition-oriented Christmas program that we used to do back in the day,” he said. “There will be some visiting of contemporary music, but I think a lot of what I feel is traditional music, sacred and secular, will be back on the program.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra “Magic of Christmas;”

2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21-22, 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 23; Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St.; $25 to $70 through or (207) 842-0800.


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