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Out & About: Valentine's concerts, plus Vasen

Lifestyle

Out & About: Valentine's concerts, plus Vasen

Romance is in the air as St. Valentine’s Day approaches. Two fine concerts with themes centered on love invite you to celebrate the day musically.

Two classical musicians, pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ron Lantz, will partner for a concert of Romantic favorites on Saturday in Boothbay Harbor and Sunday in Gorham.

The biggest is the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Tuesday Classical concert, which is slated for Valentine’s Day itself. The concert’s title, “Romeo and Juliet,” indicates the romantic theme, and all three pieces on maestro Robert Moody’s program are masterpieces.

Following Valentine’s Day, Portland Ovations presents Swedish folk trio Vasen on Thursday. Special guest will include Darol Anger and several other roots musicians from southern Maine. Plus you’ll see and hear a nyckelharpa.

Ron Lantz and Laura Kargul

Ronald Lantz is best known for his four-plus decades as violinist with the Portland String Quartet. Laura Kargul is well known as a longtime piano professor with the University of Southern Maine School of Music, and a strong exponent of the Romantic school.

For the past two years Lantz and Kargul have been pairing professionally on a few concerts. One of their most intriguing endeavors comes up this Saturday in Boothbay Harbor and Sunday in Gorham: an entire program devoted to French Romanticism, including the Maine premiere of the little-known Sonata for Violin and Piano by Jacques de la Presle.

“This gorgeous masterpiece from 1913 exemplifies the full flowering of the French Romantic tradition,” Lantz said. “We feel it is a major addition to the sonata literature that richly deserves to be heard and will eventually take its rightful place beside the great works of Cesar Franck, Gabriel Faure and Claude Debussy.” 

And speaking of Franck and Faure, both will be represented on the concert, the former by a sonata and the latter by a specially written piano-violin transcription of his songs. Other selections include transcriptions of songs by Franz Liszt and the Maine premiere of a work by Lili Boulanger.

Lantz has taught and concertized in over 30 countries as a founding member of the Portland String Quartet. He has also performed with numerous symphony orchestras both as soloist and as principal player, and has served on the faculties of the University of New Hampshire, Bates College, USM, Bowdoin College and Colby College.

Kargul is the director of keyboard studies at the USM School of Music. She has appeared as a soloist throughout Europe and this country, as well as in Canada and the West Indies. As a collaborative artist she has appeared with ensembles such as the Michigan Chamber Strings and the Lark, Da Ponte and Portland String Quartets.

Two performances are scheduled: Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Boothbay Opera House in Boothbay Harbor, and Feb. 12 at 3 p.m. at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call 633-5159 for Boothbay and 780-5555 for Gorham.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Do any two names suggest romance more strongly than Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s “star-crossed lovers?” The Bard’s celebrated play has inspired many composers, and two of those works will be featured on Feb. 14 at the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Day concert.

Maestro Robert Moody will conduct the orchestra, and he’s invited Henry Kramer, an-up-and-coming pianist who hails from Cape Elizabeth, as guest artist.

The evening opens with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” Overture-Fantasy, lushly beautiful and redolent of this tale of passionate love amidst bloody conflict. Kramer will be the featured soloist in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, an exuberant piece with a sublime and romantic slow movement at its heart.

Kramer is a recent winner of the National Chopin Competition. He has performed in Maine with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the Bowdoin International Music Festival and European recitals. A recent graduate of the Juilliard School, Kramer is continuing there with work on his master’s degree.

The evening concludes with selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet score, “Romeo and Juliet.” The movements are inspired by the scenes of the play, beginning with the ominous “Montagues and Capulets” and moving into the sweeter “Young Juliet,” and on to “Masks,” “Balcony Scene,” “The Death of Tybalt,” and “Friar Lawrence,” before concluding with the heartbreaking “Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb.” Interspersed throughout, four actors from Portland Stage will narrate excerpts from the play.

Catch this concert at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Vasen

Ever seen or heard a nyckelharpa? No? Me neither, but I expect to on Feb. 16 when the Swedish folk trio Vasen visits the Port City, part of the 2011-2012 season of Portland Ovations.

The nyckelharpa, unique to Sweden, is a many-stringed instrument that is played via keys, something like a cross between a contemporary autoharp, a lute from the Renaissance and a violin. The concert will feature the world champion nyckelharpa player, Olov Johansson, who won the honor in 1990 about the time the trio was starting.

The modern nyckelharpa is played with a bow in one hand and the other hand fingering the keys. The instrument is considered so distinctively Swedish that it’s pictured on the country’s bank notes. After falling out of favor for decades, the nyckelharpa revival dates from the 1960s. By 1990 the instrument was formally taught at a prestigious Swedish music school.

Other Vasen members are violist Mikael Marin and Roger Tallroth, who plays a 12-string guitar that’s tuned specially for the group’s style of music. In terms of repertoire, Vasen ranges from traditional Swedish to unique takes on contemporary pop. The trio has released 14 CDs since their eponymous album in 1990

Maine fiddle ace Darol Anger often plays with the group, and he’s a featured artist on Vasen’s 13th CD. Anger will participate in the concert.

Ovations Offstage offers a pre-performance lecture, “New Perspectives on New-Folk Music” with June Vail, professor of dance at Bowdoin College, who will present an illustrated lecture that looks at changing forms in folk dance and music in Sweden. Earlier that afternoon, Vasen will perform a mini-concert at the Bull Moose record store on Middle Street in Portland’s Old Port at 12:30 p.m.

On Feb. 11 the Maine Historical Society will be showing the documentary film “Old Maine’s Swedish Farms” approximately every half hour from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Vasen appears at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus. The pre-performance lecture takes place an hour prior. Call PortTix at 842-0800.