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Out & About: 2 great concerts, 1 classic Broadway musical

Lifestyle

Out & About: 2 great concerts, 1 classic Broadway musical

Two of southern Maine's finest community-based musical ensembles wrap up their 2008-2009 seasons this weekend with concerts north of Portland. And both programs will be presented twice.

The Oratorio Chorale tackles Franz Joseph Haydn's monumental "The Seasons" in Topsham on Saturday and Freeport on Sunday. Peter Frewen will conduct and the ensemble will be joined by three soloists plus the Maine Music Society in Lewiston on Saturday and Topsham on Sunday.

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra closes its season with a program formed around the name "George." As in composers George Gershwin and Georges Bizet. Plus pianist George Lopez.

PCA Great Performances presents the final show of its Broadway season on May 20, when the national touring production of "Annie" rolls into the Port City.

And with the end of so many seasons, A&E activity slows down for a while before the summer rush. Per usual, Out & About takes a short break too, resuming in June.

Oratorio Chorale

One of the most imposing and inspiring works in the vocal repertory marks the end of the season for Oratorio Chorale, a Midcoast-based community organization.

Featuring three soloists and joined by the Maine Music Society, the Oratorio Choral wraps its 2008-2009 program year this weekend with Franz Joseph Haydn's monumental oratorio named "The Seasons." It will be performed twice, in Topsham and Freeport.

Musicologists note that Haydn labored two years on "The Seasons" and that the project followed his earlier success with another large-scale oratorio, "The Creation." Like its predecessor, "The Seasons" was also based on a text supplied by a noble patron. "The Seasons" was first performed in 1801.

Haydn was nearing 70 at the time, late in his long career. But the Austrian composer was at the height of his creative powers and he was generally recognized as Europe's best. He was a wealthy and happy man, feeling that pervades the work and conveys a sense of confidence and contentment to the audience.

Commenting on its lengthy birthing process, Frewen believes that the main issue was finding a musical language that suitably matched the libretto. Haydn envisioned an architecture of symphonic scope, with each movement corresponding to one of the four seasons, but he wanted to express his ideas in a more intimate musical vocabulary.

"It took him some time to settle on a style that fit the subject and its text," explains Frewen. "The style that Haydn settled on was the direct and apparently artless language of folk music."

The text provides plenty of opportunities for musical word-painting. For example, "Autumn" includes a stag hunt followed by a wine-drinking binge at a fall festival. Musicologist David Wyn Jones adds that there are many opportunities for chorus members to identify with characters and situations in the score.

The result of Haydn's labors was an enduring triumph of musical art that has remained popular for more than two centuries.

Three soloists will join the Oratorio Chorale: soprano Danielle Vayenas, tenor Douglas Barley and bass John D. Adams. Members of the Maine Music Society will play the instrumental parts.

Oratorio Chorale presents "The Seasons" at 7:30 p.m. May 16 at Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham and 3 p.m. May 17 at Freeport Performing Arts Center at Freeport High School. Call 725-1420.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

Because the classical repertory is relatively fixed and unchanging – despite the best efforts of contemporary composers to break into the "canon" – music directors are constantly seeking new and novel ways to package their concerts with signature themes.

One of the best examples is "Great Music, By George!," the upcoming program for the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra. Maestro Rohan Smith's unifying theme is the name "George," which is shared by the two featured composers plus the guest soloist.

Top billing on the composer side goes to George Gershwin, an American who was equally renowned in popular theaters, movie palaces and august classical concert halls. His many Broadway shows and Hollywood films made him one of the wealthiest show-biz figures of the early 20th century, and his jazz-tinged "Rhapsody in Blue" made him one of the most respected modernists in classical music.

"Rhapsody in Blue," a concerto for piano and orchestra, is considered a prime example of the successful fusion of popular and classical styles. The clarinet's opening glissando – a slide along the scale – is one of the best-known beginnings in the concert world.

The piano solo honors go to George Lopez, a New Hampshire-based globetrotting musician who has played with orchestras, chamber ensembles and solo recitals and has appeared with the MSO several times before.

Also by George (Gershwin) will be "Walking the Dog," a short orchestra piece, and the overture to "Girl Crazy," a 1920s-era Broadway musical that produced such memorable hits as "I Got Rhythm" and "Embraceable You." (Modern theater-goers may know this show better as "Crazy for You," the same basic story with a more up-to-date book by Ken Ludwig.)

Georges Bizet, France's premier opera composer of the 19th century, will be represented by two orchestral suites from "Carmen," which is easily the most popular classical opera ever written. Think opera is too highbrow? Several excerpts from "Carmen" – the "Habanera" dance theme and "Bullfighter Song" – will be instantly recognizable even to people who've never seen an opera.

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra plays twice this weekend: May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary's in Lewiston (corner of Cedar and Oxford) and 2:30 p.m. May 17 at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call the MSO at 371-2028.

‘Annie'

And speaking of very popular musical theater, "Annie" is one of the top ticket-sellers even after three decades. A national touring company has been on the road with this stellar hit – with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin – and it motors into Portland's Merrill Auditorium for one May 20 performance at a family-friendly hour.

The musical is based on the central character in "Little Orphan Annie," Harold Gray's long-running cartoon strip. Her adventures during the Great Depression form the story line, but the main appeal is the spunky, appealing, good-hearted red-haired waif whose perpetual optimism is the show's magnetic appeal. "Tomorrow" is the best-known song, but others include "It's the Hard-Knock Life" and "Easy Street."

PCA Great Performances presents "Annie" at 7 p.m. May 20 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

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