Sat, Dec 27, 2014 ●
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Out & About: Singer-songwriters and classical ensembles

Lifestyle

Out & About: Singer-songwriters and classical ensembles

Two genres of music dominate the arts and entertainment calendar for this weekend: singer-songwriter and classical.

One Longfellow Square is Portland’s premier venue for singer-songwriters, and a pair of acts will perform on Friday and Saturday. Tracy Grammer and Dan Navarro frequently perform as a duo, and the pair will motor into One Longfellow Square on Friday.

On Saturday the featured act is a 30-year veteran of the New York music scene. Willie Nile has just released “The Innocent Ones,” and his nationwide tour in support of the album brings him to the Square.

Portland’s two premier classical ensembles both appear this Sunday. The Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky, will perform a program that features an Academy Award-winning work plus Felix Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony.

The Portland String Quartet will also play on Sunday in a program that features Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue.”

Tracy Grammer, Dan Navarro

Two singer-songwriters who first achieved eminence in duo acts with other partners have joined forces with each other. That’s the quick take on Tracy Grammer and Dan Navarro, a duo that will appear Friday at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

Grammer made her mark in the Dave Carter-Tracy Grammer partnership, winning awards for American songcraft and touring with Joan Baez. Since Carter died in 2002, Grammer has recorded a pair of CDs, “Flower of Avalon” (2005) and “Book of Sparrows” (2007).

Navarro wrote, performed and toured with Lowen & Navarro for more than 20 years, and the duo’s material was recorded by the likes of Pat Benatar plus a several retro-music ensembles.

Hear how the current enterprise sounds at 8 p.m. Jan. 27 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Willie Nile

With his ample mass of shaggy hair, a nasal singing style, roots-tinged themes and penchant for playing harmonica along with guitar and keyboard, singer-songwriter Willie Nile has inevitably been compared with vintage Bob Dylan. That was certainly my first reaction.

I like the assessment of Nile from Janet Goodman, writing in Music News Nashville: “Known for his live-performance energy, shades-of-Dylan vocal delivery, melodic rock 'n' roll and his healthy shock of hair, Nile hits home anthems for the common man, and charms the unsuspecting with off-beat love songs.

“Nile is fond of sing-along choruses and catchy power-pop/retro-rock melodies that are as joyous and positive as his hopeful lyrics. But as sunny as the weather is here, it’s only after some clouds and rain for a slice of real life, resulting in messages that are far from Pollyanna fluff.”

For the past 30 years Nile has been a fixture of the New York music scene. Some of his greatest success has been in Europe, while his following in this country tends more to the cultish than mainstream.

That’s too bad, because his writing and performing talents deserve more widespread notice. I am particular impressed with his “Streets of New York,” which has both a captivating melody and a compelling lyric. Nile released his latest album, “The Innocent Ones,” this past November, and he’s touring in support.

The CD, on the River House label, contains 11 original songs. The title refers to the innocent ones around the world who are victims of man’s inhumanity to man from all causes, including war, neglect and ignorance. Nile explains: “It’s an album with a number of songs dedicated to the downtrodden, the forgotten, the outcasts, the hopeless, the innocent ones.”

But don’t expect a down-in-the-dumps tone; that’s simply not Nile’s style. “The Innocent Ones” is an uplifting collection of songs, hopeful and upbeat.

Catch Willie Nile at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland, at 8 p.m. Jan. 28. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Sunday Classical series resumes this weekend with two staples of the orchestral repertoire plus a modern piece that was written for Hollywood. The guest artist does double duty; Dmitry Sitkovetsky will play violin and conduct the PSO.

First on the program is Gioacchino Rossini’s overture to “The Barber of Seville,” a light-hearted comic romp in a Spanish vein. The second piece was written by John Corigliano for “The Red Violin,” a Hollywood film which traces the story of a violin crafted centuries ago in Italy, following its fate in the hands of generations of owners. The movie wasn’t too successful, but Corigliano won the 2000 Academy Award for Best Film Score.

Corigliano first gained notice as a composer in 1964, winning an award for chamber music at the Spoleto Festival. His opera, “Ghosts of Versailles,” was the first fully staged new work at the Met in 25 years. His two symphonies have been highly lauded. The first won a Grammy, while the second won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

The featured work on the program is Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A Major, best-known as the “Italian.” The composer was a child prodigy, and this symphony, considered one of his mature works, was premiered before his 25th birthday. It was a cheery result of the young German-born composer’s Grand Tour of Europe, and musically represents a happy excursion into sunny Italy.

The Russian-born Sitkovetsky is the multi-talented violinist and music director of the Greensboro (North Carolina) Symphony. As violinist and/or conductor, Sitkovetsky has made more than 40 recordings and has been especially involved in performing contemporary works both in his home country and America.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland String Quartet

The musical form of the fugue will be explored and celebrated this Sunday, when the Portland String Quartet performs a concert that was originally slated for last month.

A fugue is a form characterized by a theme that is introduced by one musical voice and repeated in multiple variations by the other voices, often in a distinctly imitative pattern of entrances. In Sunday’s concert, the “voices” will be violins by Stephen Kecskemethy and Ron Lantz plus Julia Adams’ viola and Paul Ross’ cello.

Two works are scheduled: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue plus Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue.” Colby College musicologist Steven Saunders will explain the form of the fugue and its place in the historical development of music.

Catch this concert at 2 p.m. Jan. 29 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford Ave. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.