Renowned for its chamber music concerts, the Portland String Quartet (PSO) has contributed enormously to the local and international classical music niche. Starting as the Portland Symphony String Quartet (PSSQ), its members have progressed to become key members in the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Where many of them also created studios for teaching, positions for school music, and organize chamber music events which render full-time service to Maine. Since it was established in 1969, with Maestro Paul Vermel leading the group when it first began, it has served as a model for symphonies its size.
The Portland String Quartet, as part of its commitment to educational outreach, they plan concerts for the young in the local schools, as well as on campuses of the University of Maine System. The PSO played a key role in setting-up the Damariscotta Arts Council which organizes series of concerts every year in Damariscotta, Maine. They also organize workshops for people and these bring people from all over the world together to further their education and appreciation of this art form.
The quartet’s cozy association with the Orquesta Juvenil Simon Bolivar — from the 1970s to 2003 — is especially important in its global work. With Dr. Jose Abreu as director, the El Sistema employed the PSO’s expertise in several workshops and concerts in Venezuela. Pupils that attended this extraordinary program attend quartet’s summer workshops in Maine. Their popular textbook for undergraduate music and non-music majors, “Welcome to Chamber Music”, was base on the eponymous Jan Plan course. They have gotten rave reviews and critics from popular media organizations including the Portland Press Herald, the Washington Star, the Maine Sunday Telegram, Washington Post, the Miami Herald, the Maine Arts Commission and the Paul Foundation.
In 1981, the Portland String Quartet earned the status of “Artists in Residence” at the University of Southern Maine. They also went on to be awarded many other highly esteemed awards from the area and from all around the United States, making them one of the best in the industry. Their discography comprises more than 24 pieces including pieces from Bach’s Art of the Fugue to present-day composers like Dr. Peter Ré. Worthy of note are their various chamber music disc recordings of Walter Piston, Ernest Bloch, and George Chadwick which earned them Best Recording awards from the Boston Globe and the New York Times.
They have also debuted works by Daniel Godfrey, Gerry Bowder William Matthews, Norman Dello Joio, Elliott Schwartz and other artists. In acknowledgment of extraordinary service and cultural contributions to the community, the quartet got the Chamber Music America’s Acclaim award in 2013.
A short documentary on the PSQ’s internal teamwork by The Harvard Business School was used as a tool for teaching the effectiveness of small teams at business schools. Spearheaded by the PSQ, individuals now learn business skills from chamber music ensembles. Violinist Dean Stein joined the group on January 1, 2013. The quartet continues to schedule festivals, concerts and quartet workshops as part of its contributions to the society.