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Out & About: Chamber music festivals and 'Damn Yankees'

Lifestyle

Out & About: Chamber music festivals and 'Damn Yankees'

Summer’s end may be approaching, but there’s plenty more to go before the quiet period that begins on Labor Day weekend.

Most of Maine’s major summer music festivals take place outside Portland. But that changes next week when the Portland Chamber Music Festival, which debuted in 1994, returns for its 19th season. Artistic director and co-founder Jenny Elowitch has invited nearly two dozen of her fellow professional musicians to perform four principal concerts, which begin Aug. 9 on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

Baseball and summer are sort of synonymous. So are baseball and beaches. So why not combine the two with a baseball story at “Broadway on the Beach” – a phrase that Ogunquit Playhouse likes to use. “Damn Yankees,” in a special Boston Red Sox version, runs at the playhouse through Aug. 18. And – going, going, gone – it's a homer.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

Back in 1994, Jenny Elowitch, a classical violinist who played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and many other Hub ensembles, decided to launch a summer music festival in her hometown of Portland. Although Maine already had quite a slew of classical festivals and concert series, most took place in cities and town outside the Port City. Elowitch reasoned that because Portland is Maine’s cultural center, her new enterprise could find an artistic niche and a market.

Elowitch was right. Her venture worked. Now returning for its 19th edition, the Portland Chamber Music Festival features four main-stage evening concerts, Aug. 9, 11, 16 and 18, plus a free midday family presentation on Aug. 12.

Many aspects of the festival have remained constant over the years. Elowitch herself always performs, but in keeping with the collaborative and democratic spirit of chamber music, she’s not spotlighted in any way and the programming isn’t centered on herself. (It’s also worth noting that she now lives in Portland, while frequently commuting to Boston to play with the BSO and other groups.)

Elowitch’s original concept of a core of about two dozen professional musicians performing a variety of small-ensemble works from all periods and schools of music remains a bedrock principle of the festival.

This year’s “first” (Elowitch usually has at least one) is an appearance by a classical guitarist. David Leisner, who is on the guitar faculty of the New England Conservatory and the Manhattan School of Music, will appear in the first two concerts. On Aug. 9 he’ll be featured in Luigi Boccherini’s Quintet for Guitar and Strings, a less-often-heard masterpiece of the Italian Classical period.

On Aug. 11 Leisner will be featured, along with soprano Tony Arnold, in an intriguing piece by contemporary composer Dominick Argento. Titled “Letters from Composers,” Argento’s idea is to take personal letters written by well known historical composers and set the texts to music.

Other works on the first two concerts? The Aug. 9 opener concludes with one of chamber music’s best-loved pieces, Antonin Dvorak’s String Quintet in E Flat, commonly known as “The American.” The big item on the Aug. 11 concert will be Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, another beloved masterpiece of the genre.

All evening concerts are slated for 8 p.m. at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 320-0257 or visit pcmf.org.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

Although it takes place about an hour north of the Port City, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival is a personal favorite with me and many other Portland residents. In part that’s because artistic director Laurie Kennedy is the longtime first violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra and she invites quite a few PSO musicians to play on her five-Tuesdays series in Harrison.

The final two concerts on the 2012 schedule are slated for Aug. 7 and 14. The first will feature one of the largest ensembles Kennedy has ever gathered onstage, as 13 musicians perform the Aaron Copland’s instrumental suite from “Appalachian Spring,” which famously quotes an old Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” which was written a few miles away at the Shaker colony in New Gloucester.

The Aug. 14 finale is built around Russian composers. Sergei Prokofiev, Aram Khachaturian, Dmitri Shostakovich and Mikhail Glinka.

All concerts take place at 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre and Arts Center, Deertrees Road (about a mile out of Harrison village). Call Deertrees at 583-6747 or visit www.sebagofestival.org.

‘Damn Yankees’

It’s August and the Boston Red Sox are slumping along at the bottom of the American League East. So what’s new? If you were following the Bosox in the 1950s, you’d certainly scream “deja vu” from the top row of the Fenway Park bleachers.

Now you can root for the Red Sox from the cushioned seats of Ogunquit Playhouse, where “Damn Yankees” is running through Aug. 18.

The Boston Red Sox are the subject of one of the best Broadway musicals from the mid-1950s. “Damn Yankees” – which originally focused on the cellar-dwelling Washington Senators – has been partially re-written into a special Bosox version that’s currently circling the bases in Ogunquit. “Damn Yankees” is a grand slam; don’t miss it.

Here’s a quick recap of the story line. In the mid-1950s, a long-suffering middle-aged Red Sox fan is offered a Faustian deal by the Devil himself. In return for his soul, the paunchy, balding fan is transformed into the greatest player in baseball, a strapping young slugger who leads his team to the American League pennant.

The script for the original show was written by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop, based on the latter’s best-selling novel. The score was written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. The book adaptations for the Red Sox adaptation – an Ogunquit exclusive – was written by contemporary playwright Joe DiPietro.

I loved the new version. Ogunquit’s production truly captures the magic of “Damn Yankees,” with D.C. Anderson and Sam Prince taking the role of the fan and the slugger respectively. Television star and style maven Carson Kressley does a nice turn as Mr. Applegate, the surrogate Devil in the show. I love the double-play comedienne combination of Erin Denman, as the Devil’s sexy, curvaceous designated home-wrecker, and Jennifer Cody, as a mixed-up sportswriter.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on U.S. Route 1, presents its exclusive Red Sox version of “Damn Yankees” through Aug. 18. Call 646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.