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Out & About: PSO, USM return from winter break

Lifestyle

Out & About: PSO, USM return from winter break

As the end of January approaches, the performing arts calendar is beginning to fill up again.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra's first concert of 2014 is slated for this Sunday with two guest artists. On the podium will be Ken-David Masur, conducting a program that revolves around Aaron Copland's "Clarinet Concerto" and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Symphony No. 41." Virtuoso clarinetist Ricardo Morales will do the solo honors in the Copland.

University of Southern Maine School of Music starts its winter-spring term of Faculty Concerts this Friday with operatic bass Malcolm Smith singing Franz Schubert's "Die Winterreise," accompanied by pianist Paul Wyse.

Mad Horse Theatre Company opened the Maine premiere of Noah Haidle's "Vigils" in South Portland this past weekend; it runs through Feb. 2.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The brightest object in the early evening sky this winter is the massive gas planet Jupiter, which appears in the east at sunset and vanishes in the west about dawn. This largest planet in the solar system is associated with many works of art.

Among them is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Symphony No. 41," subtitled "Jupiter." Mozart's longest and most complex orchestra work, a challenging piece that weaves together several melodies at once, "Jupiter" will be featured when the Portland Symphony Orchestra resumes its 2013-2014 season this Sunday.

The other big item on the PSO's program will be Aaron Copland's "Clarinet Concerto," a symphonic favorite that dates from the mid-20th century, when the American classical composer wrote the piece for Benny Goodman, aka "The King of Swing."

Guest artist Ricardo Morales will be the soloist in the concerto. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Morales has been the principal clarinetist of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2003, and before that was principal at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He is noted for his artistry as a soloist, chamber, and orchestral musician, and has appeared with the Chicago Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

Guest conductor Ken-David Masur is a Grammy-nominated producer whose recent engagements include the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic and Memphis Symphony. In 2010 Masur was one of three finalists in the London Symphony’s Donatella Flick Conducting Competition, and he was later the recipient of the Seiji Ozawa Conducting Fellowship at Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony’s summer venue.

The program will open with Bela Bartok’s "Divertimento for String Orchestra."

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

University of Southern Maine School of Music

As winter returns with a vengeance this week, the University of Southern Maine returns this Friday from early winter break with the first of its 2014 Faculty Concerts. The featured artist is voice professor Malcolm Smith, a bass who has sung with many of the world's top opera companies in his long and distinguished career. He will be accompanied by pianist Paul Wyse, a former USM student who now teaches music at the State University of New York.

Smith's program is a propos to the season: Franz Schubert’s "Die Winterreise," usually translated as "Winter Journeys." But don't think sleigh rides or ski trips. "Die Winterreise" is a cycle comprising 24 songs, which features lyrics from a Wilhelm Mueller poetry collection. Mueller was a leading figure in the Romantic Movement in Germany during the early 1800s.

The expressive and dramatic song cycle is presented from the point of view of a protagonist who is alone and wandering on a cold winter's evening. Schubert's piece balances the role of the singer and the pianist equally; the lyrical interpretation and piano's rhythm present an atmospheric story of yearning, set amidst the beauty of nature cloaked in winter.

"It is very descriptive of winter scenes, while the protagonist looks back over episodes of his life," said Smith. "There are happy moments but many more contemplative moments."

Wyse added: "There is a hopefulness of getting to a better place, of longing and searching, but not being able to find it. Hope is a major tenet of romantic poetry, and it carries through the 24 verses. It's a great parallel to living in Maine in the winter – don't we always hope for a warmer time?"

Smith and Wyse will take three short breaks in the song cycle, during which Wyse will explain the meaning behind the upcoming song section.

Smith has been a USM voice artist faculty member since 2003. He and his wife, mezzo-contralto Margaret Yauger, USM voice artist faculty since 1999, spent many years living and singing in Germany, where they each performed with leading opera and concert organizations.

Catch this concert at 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26, at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine's Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

'Vigils'

Moving on in life after suffering a devastating loss is always difficult and emotionally strenuous. Make that dramatic and emotionally traumatic too in "Vigils," Noah Haidle's dark comedy, which is getting its Maine premiere this winter at Mad Horse Theatre Company in South Portland.

"Vigils" (not to be confused with "Vigil," which was produced last fall at Portland Stage Company) approaches the issues surrounding death in a novel fashion, by deconstructing the memories of the principals.

In "Vigils," the deceased is a fireman who died in a burning building while trying to rescue a child. He is represented as two characters, Soul (Burke Brimmer) and Body (Mark Rubin), while Widow (Janice Gardner) tries to move on in life and rekindle love with Wooer (Jody McColman).

In Haidle's construct, the entire play takes place in the memories of the three principal characters – Widow, Soul and Body – as they wrestle with issues that confronted them in life, beginning with their first meeting at a high school dance and continuing until two years after death.

These memories pop up in random fashion and often they repeat; the death scene in the burning building is played four times, and a couple of other scenes are played two or three times.

I especially liked Gardner in the role of Widow. She carries the heaviest burden, both in terms of time on stage and emotional conflict, and she propels the show from first scene to denouement. Nathan Speckman ably directs.

Mad Horse Theatre Company, 24 Mosher St. in South Portland, presents "Vigils" through Feb. 2, with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 747-4148.