The ninth annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, sponsored by the Portland Conservatory of Music, presented three concerts of exciting new chamber music from April 7-9, 2017. Featuring performances by some of Maine’s top musicians, including the Portland String Quartet, the Portland Piano Trio, Mark Tipton’s Les Sorciers Perdus, pianist Bridget Convey, and more, the festival showcased new music by nearly twenty composers from northern New England, many of whom were in attendance to meet the audience and talk about their pieces.
FRIDAY, APRIL 7, 7:30 PM, WOODFORDS CHURCH SANCTUARY
The festival began with a major U.S. premiere, Elliott Schwartz’s String Quartet No. 3, “Portrait for Deedee,” his last major work before he passed away last year. The Portland String Quartet, a long-time champion of new music, performed the work. Also on the program was another tribute to Schwartz, a piece by Mark DeVoto for organ and piano, featuring Harold Stover on the Woodfords Church organ. Soprano Elisabeth Marshall joined Stover in a setting of the Lord’s Prayer by Delvyn Case. Stover also performed organ works by himself and Eric Sawyer. The rest of the program showcased the Portland Piano Trio, presenting new pieces by Stephanie Ann Boyd, Delvyn Case, Francis Kayali, and Nancy Gunn.
SATURDAY, APRIL 8, 2:00 PM, WOODFORDS CHURCH SANCTUARY
The Saturday afternoon program featured more tributes to artistic giants lost in 2016: Bill Matthew’s string quartet “Lux aeterna” for Maine dance legend Marcy Plavin, solo piano pieces by John McDonald for composer Elliott Schwartz and soprano Phyllis Curtin, and a performance by UMaine and UMF students of pieces by the avant-garde pioneer Pauline Oliveros. The concert also included chamber music for strings, winds, piano, and solo guitar by John Newell, Bruce Fithian, Vineet Shende, Gregory Hall, Jesse Feinberg, and Colby College students Liam Butchart and Colleen Wright, and songs by Francis Kayali. Several fine student musicians from the Portland Conservatory also performed. Karger student Liesl Quigley sang a rendition of Jessica Piazza’s poem, “In the Room,” while Leah Israel performed W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues.” Piazza, upon hearing Quigley’s performance, commented “I love her voice! I thought it was really beautiful and she did the work justice.” To hear Quigley and Israel’s performances, click the links below.
Liesl Quigley: “In the Room”
Leah Israel: “Funeral Blues”
SUNDAY, APRIL 9, 2:00 PM, SPACE GALLERY
The focus on Sunday was music with spoken word, a tie-in to National Poetry Month. Former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl read several of her jazz poems in collaboration with musicians Gary Wittner and Jim Cameron, and Mark Tipton’s quartet Les Sorciers Perdus performed with Downeast poet Alan Brooks. Philip Carlsen offered a setting for string trio of a long, contrapuntal poem by Robert Bringhurst, a work in which the musicians spoke while they played. In “Jet-Pack for One,” Beth Wiemann combined her bass clarinet playing with an electronic reading of a wry poem by Miriam Gamble. Josh Newton narrated his “Commedia,” which also featured flutist Nicole Rawding. Gustavo and Gaelyn Aguilar, aka Tug, offered a mixed-media piece about their “Who Eats at Taco Bell?” project, and the program concluded with an audience-participatory electronic/video work by Bill Matthews.
2016 Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival
In April 2016, we held our eighth annual Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, a joyous weekend of concerts in honor of one of Maine’s most distinguished composers, Elliott Schwartz. You can learn more about the 2016 Festival by checking out the programs from all three concerts, viewing videos that one of the musicians recorded of nearly all the festival performances, or by reading either of the following reviews, published by Maine Classical Beat and Portland Press Herald:
At the 2016 Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, over two dozen of Schwartz’s composer friends wrote new one-minute pieces in his honor, most of which were based on a musical theme derived from the letters of Schwartz’s name. These pieces, known collectively as the “ESCHART Variations,” were premiered by a festival ensemble consisting of violinist Dean Stein and oboist Kathleen McNerney, the co-directors of Venti Cordi, as well as flutist Krysia Tripp, cellist Philip Carlsen, and pianist Chiharu Naruse, many of whom are faculty members of the Conservatory.
The festival’s three concerts featured several pieces by Schwartz himself, as well as recent works by a varied group of New England composers, many of them former students of Schwartz’s who were present at the festival to perform their music. The performer/composers also included Portland organist Harold Stover, SPACE Gallery music director Peter McLaughlin, the compositional improvisation duo of Gregory Hall and Jesse Feinberg, and pianist George Lopez. There were many faculty members from Maine colleges, including Dan Sonenberg and the Composers Ensemble from USM, Beth Wiemann and Philip Silver from the University of Maine, Jon Hallstrom from Colby, Frank Mauceri from Bowdoin, Bill Matthews from Bates, Josh DeScherer from Kennebec Valley Community College, and Gustavo Aguilar from the University of Maine at Farmington.
Elliott Schwartz taught at Bowdoin College for more than forty years, and has also held visiting residencies at the University of California (Santa Barbara and San Diego), Ohio State University, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. His music has been performed by leading orchestras around the country, including the Minnesota Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. He has appeared as composer-lecturer at many international venues, from Paris to Tokyo. He has written or edited four books on musical subjects, and has had many of his compositions released on LP and CD. Serving in important leadership positions with national music organizations, including as president of the College Music Society, Schwartz’s generosity, curiosity, and enthusiasm for music have touched the lives of many people.
Elliott Schwartz in Memoriam
PCM mourns the passing of celebrated composer Elliott Schwartz. Elliott has been a friend of the Conservatory since our founding, having served on the advisory board, and giving many lectures over the years. Elliot Schwartz founded PCM’s Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival and organized the event in its first 8 years.
Elliott Schwartz was born in 1936 in New York City and studied composition with Otto Luening and Jack Beeson at Columbia University. He served on the music faculty at Bowdoin University for 43 years, twelve of them as department chair. His many extended residencies and/or visiting professorships include Ohio State University, the University of California (San Diego and Santa Barbara), Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. His compositions have been performed by such groups as the Minnesota Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chicago Chamber Orchestra, and the Youth Orchestra of the Netherlands and featured at numerous international music centers and festivals including Tanglewood, the Library of Congress, Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), DeIjsbreker (Amsterdam), Music of the Americas (London), and the European Youth Orchestra Festival (Copenhagen).
Leading orchestras and chamber ensembles have recorded his music for New World, CRI, Albany, Innova, Capstone and other labels. Honors and awards for his compositions include the Gaudeamus Foundation (Netherlands), the Rockefeller Foundation (two Bellagio residencies), and the National Endowment for the Arts. Over the course of his career he served as president of The College Music Society, president of the Society of Composers, Inc, vice-president of the American Music Center, and board member of the American Composers Alliance. During 2006, his seventieth birth-year was celebrated with concerts and guest lectures at Oxford, the Royal Academy of Music in London, Butler University, Concordia College, the University of Minnesota, the ACA Festival in New York, and the Library of Congress. The Kreutzer Quartet premiered his most recent composition, String Quartet No. 3: Portrait (of Deedee), this past spring in London.