Jun. 13—The Portland Bach Experience returned for in-person concerts on Saturday with "A Suite Ride Through Portland," a series of outdoor performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's cello suites.
John Ott performed Suites No. 3 and No. 4 at the Payson Park farmers market, following a 9 a.m. rendition of the first two on the Western Promenade. At Payson Park, children held their parents' hands and older listeners swayed along with the arpeggios, while volunteers handed out "Bachsicles" to the crowd.
"They're freeze pops," organizer Emily Southard said. "We like puns."
Southard, who serves as managing director at Portland Bach Experience, said Saturday's concerts were the group's first live performances since the pandemic forced the cancelation of its summer 2020 events.
"This is the first time we're out here performing in person, and it feels great," she said.
Karen Norton of Westbrook nodded along to the suites in a straw hat, a bag of fresh produce at her side. A veteran concertgoer, Norton said she was pleased to return to live performances after the pandemic. She also noted how, in bringing classical music outdoors, the program was introducing it to a wider audience.
"It's a really different experience to be here, outside of a concert hall," she said. "It's sort of less intimate, but more inclusive."
Ott, who trained in baroque performance, gave a sprightly, precise rendition of the middle suites with very little vibrato, in keeping with the period. He and his partner, Sylvia Schwartz, a violinist, form the duo Guts Baroque, which showcases their passion for "early music on period instruments," according to their website. ("Guts" is a reference to animal-gut strings used at the time.)
"I haven't played anywhere outside of my living room for the last few years," Ott said after finishing to warm applause.
Afterward, the day of music moved to Fort Allen Park on the Eastern Promenade for the last two cello suites, this time as accompaniment to a guided meditation session.
The Bach Experience's return began Friday with a block party in the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland, and continues Sunday with a 10 a.m. brunch concert at The Brunswick Hotel. Titled "The Golden Age of England," the Sunday event will feature music from English composers performed by Sonja Tengblad and the Ott-Schwartz duo, Guts Baroque.
Two "ice cream concerts" for children and family are planned on Tuesday at Little Giant in Portland's West End, first at 10 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m.
Wednesday will feature music from 18th-century France in a salon-style concert at Cove Street Arts in Portland, scheduled for 6 p.m. Then on Thursday, Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland will host the popular annual "Bach and Beer" event outdoors at 5 p.m. On Friday at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland, musicians will play Bach's Double Violin Concerto at 7 p.m., and again the next day at 7 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Church in Brunswick. Also on Saturday, June 19, the Handel Happy Hour is slated for 5 p.m. at The Brunswick Hotel.
The concluding brunch, a reprise of the 18th-century French salon experience, is at 10 a.m. on Sunday, June 20, also at The Brunswick Hotel. For a full schedule with more details, visit portlandbachexperience.com/events.