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Out & About: Music old and modern

Lifestyle

Out & About: Music old and modern

Past and present genres of music are intriguingly juxtaposed in Portland this weekend, with an interesting variety of styles in a diversity of settings.

The top draw will be the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Baroque concert, which includes some of the oldest and loveliest music in the classical canon, along with some modern variations on those ancient themes.

Portland Ovations will be hosting Kayhan Kalhor, a modern virtuoso of an ancient Persian instrument and aesthetic style.

Dark Star Orchestra is both contemporary and historical. That statement of course presumes that bringing the Grateful Dead back to life is “historical.” Catch them in Portland.

Heather Maloney is very much the archetype of the modern singer-songwriter. For her upcoming Portland gig, Maloney will appear with Session Americana.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Over the years I’ve occasionally grumbled about the dearth of Baroque and earlier music in southern Maine. But I have no cause for complaint this Sunday, when the Portland Symphony Orchestra will perform a concert entirely devoted to old music.

The opener on this concert, which will have guest conductor Hugh Floyd on the podium, is an intriguing mix of old and new. “Ancient Airs and Dances” is a 1917 work by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi, who is best known for large-scale orchestral tone poems. But Respighi was also a music scholar with a passion for translating and updating old works into newer forms.

Mark Rohr, PSO’s longtime program annotator, points out that Respighi had “as much interest in the music of the past as the music of the future. In an age when music before Bach was never heard outside of scholarly circles, Respighi was determined to take such music out of the dusty old history books and into the concert hall.”

Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances” is a four-movement work that uses a number themes from different 16th-century composers and repackages them into a coherent whole that is orchestrated in a style that agrees with modern symphony audiences.

Three pieces by a trio of Baroque composers complete the program, which was put together by PSO music director Robert Moody. Heinrich von Biber is comparatively unknown, although current music scholarship is increasingly rediscovering his genius. Sunday’s work recalls a military battle, and employs a variety of conflicting musical elements and unorthodox juxtapositions – a style that would later be admired and emulated by 20th-century composers.

Arcangelo Corelli was one of the most prolific of the Italian Baroque composers, and his music is frequently heard today. Sunday’s offering will be a concerto grosso from 1690.

Johann Sebastian Bach is generally regarded as the most important of the Baroque masters, and Sunday’s Cantata No. 140 (“Sleepers Awake”) is one of his most famous. For this work the PSO will be joined by the Choral Art Camerata, a 30-voice sub-section of the Choral Art Society, performing under the direction of Robert Russell, longtime professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

On the podium, guest maestro Floyd has a long history of conducting works that combine chorus and symphony orchestra.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 24 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Kayhan Kalhor

The kamancheh is one of the most ancient musical instruments in the world, and a contemporary virtuoso is visiting Maine this Saturday as a guest of Portland Ovations.

Kayhan Kalhor is a major creative influence in today’s global music scene. His performances of traditional Persian music and multiple collaborations have won him many fans and garnered six Grammy nominations. Recognized for his classical playing and compositions, Kalhor has appeared in solo recital at Carnegie Hall and as part of Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. He is a founding member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

The kamancheh has four strings that are played with a bow. Ancient artwork depicts its use in many scenes, and it became very prominent during the Byzantine Empire. The kamancheh anticipates several modern Western stringed instruments; it is about the size of a violin, but played upright like a cello.

Portland Ovations presents Kayhan Kalhor at 8 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800. For this performance, Kalhor will be joined by one of the worlds most gifted santour players, Ali Bahrami Fard.

Dark Star Orchestra

The Grateful Dead may have entered the history books, but the long strange trip continues into the present via a nationally acclaimed tribute band that plays the State Theatre Nov. 21. With a commitment to “raising the Dead,” Dark Star Orchestra offers a evolving artistic outlet within the Dead’s musical canon. The DSO seeks out the unique style of each Dead era and offer their own interpretations and improvisations at each show.

Using entire set lists from the Dead’s decades of touring as an artistic launching pad, DSO recreates song-for-song performances straight from the set list of these historic shows. Orchestra members strive for a continuation of the spirit of what now amounts to four-plus decades of the Dead’s timeless music.

Catch Dark Star Orchestra Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. at the State Theatre, 609 Congress St. in Portland. Call 800-745-3000.

Heather Maloney

Emerging from Boston’s truly abundant crop of excellent singer-songwriters, Heather Maloney is looking to establish a national reputation with her latest CD. I strongly suspect that she’ll acquire an enthusiastic base of fans in southern Maine when she appears this Friday at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

Maloney’s eponymously titled 11-cut album, her third since 2009, features her expressive and flexible soprano voice – in a former musical life she aspired to be an opera singer – and a writing style that ranges from straight-ahead to slyly enigmatic. I’m listening to the album as I write this, and hope to attend the show.

Last spring Maloney’s first tour in support of the CD ended with a sold-out performance at Harvard Square’s famed Club Passim. Commenting on that show, Boston Globe critic Jeremy D. Goodwin wrote: “She applies her in-the-moment approach to life on the road, where the unpredictability of the daily grind can make it hard to find those quiet moments she craves.

“But there are no road-weary laments to be found here; she’s savoring the experience of getting out there and connecting with new people.”

Come connect with Heather Maloney, along with Session Americana, at 8 p.m. Nov. 22 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.