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Out & About: Summer concerts, theater beckon

Lifestyle

Out & About: Summer concerts, theater beckon

With the long Fourth of July weekend behind us, Maine enters its most intense period of summer, with many concerts and other performances beckoning residents and tourists alike.

Summer music festivals are among our state’s most appealing attractions. Amongst the pines and ponds of western Maine, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival is set to open its annual five-week run on July 16 in rural Harrison.

In the bustling Mid-Coast town of Brunswick, the Bowdoin International Music Festival continues apace. With performances nearly every day – and sometimes two per day – it’s a cornucopia of concerts.

Summer stock musicals also beckon. “Chicago,” which is still running on Broadway, is also running through this Saturday at Arundel Barn Playhouse, an exemplar of the way theater ought to be in the Pine Tree State.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

Among Maine’s many seasonal performing arts venues, none better exudes rustic charm than Deertrees Theatre. The setting certainly exemplifies laid-back summers in Maine. Constructed nearly 80 years ago from hemlock trees harvested on the site of a deer run on a hillside in Harrison, Deertrees was founded by a New York opera activist as an outlet for her creative energies, and those of her circle of friends.

In the 1930s and 1940s Deertrees hosted many Broadway stars. Over the past 50 years it’s had its ups and downs. Restored as a vibrant arts center two decades ago, Deertrees was the focus of cultural life in Maine’s pines-and-ponds region. But in 2012 the non-profit’s board of directors severely curtailed programming, citing accumulated operating deficits and the need to regroup under new leadership.

This year Deertrees is back with a much fuller schedule and its finances on a more secure footing.

Deertrees’ anchor each summer is the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, which begins its 41st season on July 16 and offers a weekly series of concerts every Tuesday through Aug. 13. For nearly three decades, Laurie Kennedy, principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, has served as the festival’s artistic director.

Many festival attendees, including myself, are also symphony regulars. Some have camps in the area, while others drive up for the day and wrap up their activities with a festival concert.

Each summer Kennedy invites about two dozen fellow professionals to join her in a five-concert series that tends to focus on the established standard repertoire with a few modern pieces added from time to time.

The series launches with a three-work program titled “Beethoven and the Mendelssohns.” The evening will begin with a string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven (Op. 18, No. 6), continuing with two pieces by siblings who arrived on the European music scene a couple of decades later. The middle work on the program will be Fanny Mendelssohn’s piano trio, while her younger brother Felix wrote the concluding string quintet. Felix Mendelssohn enjoyed a spectacularly successful career, while his older sister never achieved the recognition she deserved during her lifetime.

This first program of the 2013 season features a pair of artists new to the festival: violist Julie Whitton, who plays for the Seattle Symphony, and cellist Elizabeth Anderson, who is with the New York City Opera.

The July 23 program spotlights Italian chamber music. Giaocchino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi were best known as composers of grandiose operas, but Kennedy has selected two small-format works by the pair. Perhaps the most intriguing piece will be a modern trio for flute, violin and piano written by Nino Rota, who is best known for scoring the movie, “The Godfather.”

Deertrees Theatre is located on Deertrees Road, about a mile out of Harrison Village. Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival concerts are at 7:30 on Tuesdays, July 16-Aug. 13. Call Deertrees at 583-6747 or visit sebagomusicfestival.org.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Brunswick is orders of magnitude bigger and busier than Harrison, but it’s also a summertime mecca for arts aficionados who seek the best Maine has to offer. Any reckoning of “best” in Maine will certainly include the Bowdoin International Music Festival, a six-week affair that’s now in its 49th season. I’ve already attended three concerts, and hope to log a few more before its Aug. 2 finale.

This year’s theme is “Around the World in Forty Days,” and it reflects both the geographical diversity of classical music plus the international scope of the festival artists, led by longtime artistic director Lewis Kaplan. The festival has three principal concert series, plus numerous secondary and special-focus series.

In the flagship series – Festival Fridays – the July 12 concert will include three works. The first features double bassist Kurt Muroki in a piece by Giovanni Bottesini, an Italian Romantic composer. Bottesini himself was a double bass virtuoso. Recognizing the paucity of small-ensemble repertoire for his own instrument, he composed numerous pieces to fill this artistic void.

The middle and concluding works will be a string quartet by Robert Schumann and a string sextet by Johannes Brahms. The former will mark the final 2013 appearance by the Ying String Quartet, which wraps up an annual three-week teaching and performing residency this Friday.

Festival Friday concerts are slated for 8 p.m. at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School. For a complete and up-to-date schedule and locations of the festival’s approximately 90 concerts each summer, visit bowdoinfestival.org.

‘Chicago’

The American system of justice and vaudeville theater have a lot in common, at least where celebrities are involved. That’s the central theme of “Chicago,” the brilliant musical satire by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (book and lyrics) that’s been running since 1996 on Broadway.

The story is set in the 1920s in the namesake city and the plot revolves around a pair of women who murdered their lovers. After they are acquitted in trials orchestrated by a razzle-dazzle celebrity lawyer, the two murderesses find new careers in vaudeville.

Per usual, Arundel Barn’s cast is quite young. Some of the actors are recent graduates of conservatories and college theatrical programs who are making their first professional experiences.

Andrea Wright, playing a wannabe vaudeville star, is tops among the cast. She kills her faithless lover shortly after the opening curtain then waltzes free after trial.

Monet Julia Sabel, playing another show-biz hopeful, makes a perfect pairing. In “Chicago,” justice is totally subordinated to celebrity, and the master of publicity is a lawyer who totally bamboozles the adoring press corps and does the same for the jury. Mark Edwards nails this juicy role.

Arundel Barn Playhouse is running a splendid production of this masterpiece of American musical theater through this Saturday. Visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.