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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 8, 2018

From the way-back machine, PSO brings in former maestro Bruce Hangen

Written by: Bob Keyes

Bruce Hangern
Photo by Michael J. Lutch

Bruce Hangen goes back with the Portland Symphony Orchestra so far, he’s looking forward to coming back to Portland so he can perform in what he calls “the new” Merrill Auditorium. Hangen, musical director of the symphony from 1976 to 1986, left the orchestra long before Merrill underwent its renovation in the late 1990s.

To be accurate, he’s been back to Merrill and performed there since his departure from the orchestra. He has conducted at Merrill for what is now Opera Maine, and he came back as a PSO guest when all living musical directors from the orchestra’s past gathered for a gala celebration of its 90th season. But his return on Tuesday to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 will be special, he said.

“I am excited about doing a symphony concert in the renovated auditorium, which I was not fortunate enough to be a part of in those days,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Massachusetts. “I am very enthusiastic and quite excited.”

It’s also fitting that he’s leading the orchestra through Mahler’s first symphony. Upon his arrival in Portland in 1976, he announced his intention to perform the complete Mahler symphony cycle, beginning with the first symphony. Performing it again, with many of the musicians he hired still performing with the orchestra, will feel both fitting and moving, he said.

Hangen 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 the among the guest conductors who will help 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.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz
Photo by Stephen Mackin

Tuesday’s concert also features cellist Matt Haimovitz performing Bloch’s “Schelomo,” the other piece on the program. Haimovitz is a remarkably accomplished cellist, Hangen said, and he’s also credited with bringing music to the people. He routinely performs his music in coffeehouses and other casual venues, breaking from the tradition of playing classical music in concert halls.

“It all comes from the belief of wanting to connect with all kinds of people,” Hangen said. “I am just all for that sort of approach, and I feel like I have tried to do the same thing with a full orchestra, but it’s hard to put a 90-piece orchestra in a coffeehouse.”

After Tuesday’s concert, Hangen won’t be a stranger. He’s also on tap to conduct the PSO’s “Magic of Christmas” concerts this December. “I feel proud to be asked to be a part of the season,” he said. “It shows support for what the orchestra was in the past, and that’s very meaningful to me.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra

WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16
HOW MUCH: $25 to $83
INFO: or (207) 842-0800
WHAT ELSE: Pre-concert conversation at 6:15 p.m. with guest conductor Bruce Hangen; post-concert Q&A with the artists on stage

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