he Midcoast Symphony will give three Lewiston appearances, marking the start of a continuing presence in the Twin cities by the acclaimed musical organization.

First comes a concert Friday, Jan. 16, at Bates College’s Olin Arts Center, and in early March the 55-member orchestra will perform at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s Church.

“A home away from home” is the way the symphony’s administrators talk about Lewiston and their hopes for a continuing relationship with the new performance space at the Franco-American Heritage Center on Cedar Street.

On May 14, a third concert is scheduled for Bates College. However, it’s the recently refurbished concert space at the former St. Mary’s Church that has caught the attention of the symphony’s officials.

Barbara Burt, symphony president, and Martin Jones, vice president, both said they believe there is a significant potential for support of more classical music performances in the Twin Cities. The Midcoast Symphony performs at a variety of Maine locations and has been seen at Bates a couple of times in recent months. Jones said they want to perform here more, but the Bates College concert hall isn’t available often enough.

“It would be nice for us and the community to play regularly in L-A,” Jones said, “but we need satisfactory venues.”

Midcoast Symphony officials began talks with the Franco-American Heritage Center’s developers, Jones said, and that led to plans for an initial performance.

“It looks like it’s going to be an excellent space,” Jones said. If all works out as hoped, the Franco-American Heritage Center could be the symphony’s long-term base for this area.

He noted that conversations with people in the Twin Cities confirm his belief that there’s plenty of demand for more classical music without infringing upon all of the fine performances other groups are presenting in L-A.

Peter Frewen, artistic director of the Maine Music Society, said, “I am always delighted when there is an opportunity for more live performance of serious music in the area.”

Frewen, who conducted the Androscoggin Chorale and Maine Chamber Ensemble in a program of Vivaldi’s music at St. Mary’s early last month, agrees that the renovated historic church offers an outstanding performance space.

“Having performed there, I know it’s good, and for it to operate successfully it must have regular programs,” he said. “I am sure we will all work together to complement each others efforts.”

Frewen formed The Maine Chamber Ensemble, a professional chamber orchestra based in Lewiston-Auburn, in 1987 in response to the Androscoggin Chorale’s increasingly sophisticated programming and need for orchestral accompaniment.

Burt said Midcoast Symphony’s potential relationship with the Lewiston-Auburn area’s audiences is an exciting extension of the symphony’s home base at the Orion Performing Arts Center, Mount Ararat Middle School in Topsham. The L-A possibilities are coupled with the 14-year-old symphony’s delight in beginning its first full season with Rohan Smith as musical director. She said Smith was selected last year from among 70 candidates from all over the United States and several foreign countries who applied for the position.

“He brings us to a whole new level of playing,” Burt said.

Burt, who plays French horn in the orchestra, said the Midcoast Symphony began in 1990 as a chamber group of string players in the Brunswick area. Paul Ross, who is cellist with the Portland Symphony String Quartet, was musical director as the organization grew to its present size. More recently, Ross has directed performances of the Androscoggin Valley Community Orchestra.

Midcoast Symphony is a volunteer community group that performs a full range of orchestral literature. Its members come from varied backgrounds from about 35 Maine communities.

Smith said he believes access to good music “is an energizing force in communities.” The Midcoast Symphony’s new musical director said it is becoming more and more difficult for orchestras to survive and he feels “it is very important that symphonic music is not lost to all the biggest cities.”

Smith added that he is particularly pleased to be conducting the Jan. 16 concert at the Olin Arts Center because it will feature his wife, Eva Gruesser, as soloist in the Violin Concert, Op. 14, by American composer Samuel Barber.

Gruesser, who performs with the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York, and is concert master of the New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra, described the Barber Violin Concerto as “a wonderful piece of music with songful lines, especially in the first two movements.” She said the last movement is “quite complex, filled with triplets and a folksy driving dance that’s a great release.”

Also on the Jan. 16 program are Barber’s “Adagio for Strings;” Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, “Paris;” and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

The March 6 program at the Franco-American Heritage Center will feature music by Verdi, Mascagni, Ravel and DeFalla and arias by Mozart and Rossini. The program in May will include music by Ives, Piston, Griffes and Harris.

The Jan. 16 performance in Lewiston will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 at the door and in advance at Carroll’s Music, Lewiston. Anyone 21 years old and younger will be admitted free. The program will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17 at Mount Ararat Middle School, Topsham.


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