Top musical offering: Cape Breton fiddler MacMaster
The astronomical calendar indicates that we've reached the final full week of winter, while the arts and entertainment calendar indicates a variety of music that's suitable for all seasons.
Top billing goes to Cape Breton fiddling phenom Natalie MacMaster, who rosins up her bow at Portland's Merrill Auditorium on March 17. I've seen her several times and will do so again.
Midcoast Symphony Orchestra has slated a pair of concerts in Lewiston and Topsham, March 14 and 15. Guest conductor Janna Hymes, who lives in Camden and leads orchestras around the world, steps up to the podium of this fine community ensemble for a program titled "Russian Sojourn."
Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, offers a varied program for its March 15 matinee concert, the third in the Sunday Classical series.
She's been called the foremost representative of the special brand of Scottish-inspired fiddling that originates on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
We're talking about a phenomenal fiddler who's made a name for herself in that very traditional genre of Celtic music. Natalie MacMaster, virtuoso of the traditional Scottish fiddle, visits Portland March 17.
She's a frequent visitor to southern Maine. I've now seen her four times, and expect to be among the crowd at Merrill Auditorium next week. Matter of fact, I've got one of her CDs spinning as I write this.
Jigs, reels and hornpipes. And lots more, including perhaps some singing and a bit of dancing. That's what traditional music aficionados can expect as PCA Great Performances presents MacMaster's visit to Portland. I've been hooked on her music since picking up two of her CDs in anticipation of one performance. "My Roots Are Showing" and "In My Hands" both get frequent spins on my CD player, whatever the season.
She's been on the New England-based Rounder Records label since the mid-1990s. "In My Hands" picked up a Grammy nomination in the "Best Traditional Folk" category. She was nominated by the East Coast Music Association as "Entertainer of the Year," and three of her CDs have charted "gold" on the Canadian Recording Industry Association's sales ratings.
From the age of 9, when she first picked up a fiddle, that instrument has been the musical magic carpet she's traveled from the back roads of Cape Breton Island to the world's concert stages. Her stock in trade is time-honored tunes and styles she grew up with: acoustic and Celtic. That side of the performer is best heard on her CD "My Roots Are Showing," with 13 cuts, all traditional foot-tapping jigs, reels, hornpipes and related genres.
A more adventurous side of MacMaster is found on "In My Hands" and subsequent efforts, which embrace a variety of instrumentation – some electronic – and encompasses both traditional music and some newly composed material specifically penned for her. "In My Hands," which features the artist's first vocal effort, is a sensuous woman's love affair – with her fiddle.
Now 36 years old, MacMaster has branched away from strictly Celtic-Scottish, seriously venturing into bluegrass and sharing the stage with a very diverse bunch of contemporary musicians, including Carlos Santana, Paul Simon, the Dixie Chicks and Luciano Pavarotti. She's also more actively promoting the Irish side of Celtic, having married the fiddler from the Leahy Family band, a leader in that very green musical field.
PCA Great Performances presents Natalie MacMaster and her band at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 17. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Despite their impressive numbers in most musical fields, women conductors of symphony orchestras are quite scarce. Relatively few female graduates of conservatory conducting programs lead orchestras of their own; most make do with guest appearances.
Janna Hymes is a woman who can boast one of her own. She is a Camden resident who will be filling in for regular maestro Rohan Smith, whose contract calls for an annual leave to lead a music festival in his native Australia. Hymes has appeared as a guest conductor several times with the MSO.
A native New Yorker, Hymes is currently in her fifth year as music director of the Williamsburg (Va.) Symphonia. Plus she is a frequent guest with orchestras worldwide and teaches conducting workshops with the American Symphony Orchestra League.
Known for her energetic and passionate style, the spirit of the Russian works she'll be conducting make a perfect match.
The MSO's program is rich with the lush melodies characteristic of composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Alexander Borodin. Borodin's Symphony No. 2 in B Minor is full of musical references to Russian folk tunes and peasant dances. Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture" is nothing less than the epitome of romantic love. Julius Conus' Violin Concerto in E Minor provides a virtuosic showcase for the soloist as well as a wealth of lyrical tunes. And Dmitri Kabelevsky's lively "Overture to Colas Breugnon" starts the program off with infectious rhythms and memorable tunes.
The solo honors in the Conus concerto go to Lucia Lin, who made her professional debut performing with the Chicago Symphony at age 11. Formerly concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, she currently is a member of the Boston Symphony and the Muir String Quartet. She has been a prize winner in many competitions, including the 1990 International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Midcoast Symphony Orchestra presents "Russian Sojourn" twice this coming weekend: 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 14 at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary's in Lewiston (corner of Cedar and Oxford) and 2:30 p.m., Sunday, March 15 at the Orion Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call 371-2028.
Portland Symphony Orchestra
For its third program in the Sunday Classical series, Portland Symphony Orchestra presents music by Maurice Ravel, Franz Schubert and Francis Poulenc. Music director/maestro Robert Moody will conduct.
The most intriguing work will be Poulenc's Concerto in G Minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani. Guest organist Ray Cornils has served as the municipal organist for the city of Portland since 1990 and is a member of the music faculty at the University of Southern Maine. He also serves as music director of the First Parish Church in Brunswick, where he leads an extensive choral and handbell program. He teaches on the faculties of Bowdoin College at Brunswick and the Portland Conservatory of Music.
Catch this concert at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, March 15 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.