The Portland String Quartet has had an enormous impact locally, regionally and internationally since its inception in 1969. Beginning as The Portland Symphony String Quartet (PSSQ), the quartet members became not only principal players in the Portland Symphony Orchestra, they established teaching studios, school music positions and chamber music concerts serving the greater Portland area and the State of Maine full time. This became a model for orchestras the size of the PSO nationwide. Maestro Paul Vermel was the visionary for those first years of the quartet.
Hundreds of youth concerts in the public and private schools and at each campus of the University of Maine System were and continue to be a major part of the quartet’s dedication to educational outreach. The quartet helped to establish the Damariscotta Arts Council with an annual concert series in Damariscotta, Maine. String Quartet Workshops continuously over the last 37 years at Sugarloaf Mountain, Colby College and now at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, bring students together to study and perform chamber music from throughout the State, the U.S. and abroad. Particularly important in the quartet’s international work is its close relationship with the Orquesta Juvenil Simon Bolivar – beginning in the 1970s and continuing through 2003. Now known as El Sistema, this program under the direction of Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, utilized the expertise of the Portland String Quartet with multiple concerts and workshops in Venezuela. Now students from this outstanding program come to Maine for the quartet’s summer workshops. These talented students are currently the students of former PSQ Workshop “alumni” — continuing the legacy of instruction and inspiration by the Portland String Quartet.
In 1981 the PSQ became Artists in Residence at the University of Southern Maine, and in l986 they were awarded Honorary Doctor of Music degrees and named “Maine Treasures” by Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where they served as Artists in Residence for the next 20 years. Their Jan Plan course, “Welcome to Chamber Music”, sparked the development of their textbook (of the same title) for undergraduate music and non-music majors.
They have received rave reviews from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Washington Star and Washington Post, the Miami Herald, the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Sunday Telegram, as well as from numerous critics for newspapers, recording magazines and organizations including the Maine Arts Commission and the Paul Foundation. Their discography includes over two dozen recordings which span the literature from Bach’s Art of the Fugue to living composers such as Allen Levines and Dr. Peter Ré. Of particular note are their multiple disc recordings of the chamber music of Walter Piston, George Chadwick and Ernest Bloch for which they received Best Recording accolades from the New York Times and the Boston Globe. They have premiered works by Norman Dello Joio, Daniel Godfrey, William Matthews, Jonathan Hallstrom, Gerry Bowder and Elliott Schwartz – to name a few.
The PSQ’s internal teamwork was studied in depth in l982-83 by the Harvard Business School and a short documentary was prepared by the School as a tool for teaching small team effectiveness at business schools from Boston to California. Professors Chris Christensen and Joe Seltzer have continued to use this video as well as live presentations by the PSQ in both Pomona and LaSalle business classes and regional conferences. Learning business skills from chamber music ensembles has now become a recognized added value in both fields – pioneered by the Portland String Quartet.
Due to the illness of founding member and 1st violinist Stephen Kecskemethy the PSQ turned to outstanding guest artists for its 2012-2013 concert season.
Beginning January 1, 2013, the PSQ welcomed violinist Dean Stein to its membership. It is a joyful merging of talent, experience and camaraderie.
With a full concert, festival and workshop schedule the Portland String Quartet happily continues a distinguished career without pause.