Out & About: Bach, Brave and big bands
Barreling toward Labor Day weekend – and the de facto end of the summer season of arts and entertainment – there are still a few more big happenings over the next couple of weeks.
One of them is Maine’s biggest classical music festival that is entirely devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach and his Baroque contemporaries. That’s wrapping up this weekend in Fryeburg, but most of the top musicians hail from greater Portland.
World music from Texas? That’s the shtick of Brave Combo, a quintet that’s been a fixture of the Lone Star State music scene for more than three decades. Brave Combo has a big touring schedule, which passes through Portland on Saturday.
A pair of big bands are playing in Portland and environs within the next week. First up is the all-woman Edith Jones Project, which visits Buxton Saturday. Then the Portland Jazz Orchestra holds forth in its namesake city on Thursday.
White Mountain Bach Festival
The White Mountains may be mostly in New Hampshire, but there’s also a 10,000-acre swath of Maine woods that lies within the boundaries of the White Mountain National Forest. Fryeburg is the gateway to the Maine section, and the Leura Eastman Arts Center, built by Fryeburg Academy four years ago, is rapidly becoming a regional gateway for music and theater.
The White Mountain Bach Festival had been happening for two decades in various venues in Conway, N.H., but when the Leura Eastman center became available, the trustees jumped at the chance to move to Fryeburg.
I’ve been attending the festival in both locations for about 10 years, and I’ve loved every minute of the experience.
About the same time the festival crossed the state line, the trustees hired a new artistic director, who has given the festival a distinctly Maine cast. Rob Lehmann, a violinist-conductor-pedagogue from Scarborough, has persuaded many of his professional colleagues to come to Fryeburg, where they will wrap up the festival with two major performances this weekend. A total of 80 musicians are scheduled to perform.
Lehmann directs the string studies program at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, where he also conducts the orchestra and leads the Meliora String Quartet. He often plays with the Portland Symphony plus he runs a community orchestra in the Boston area.
Organist and harpsichordist is Ray Cornils, who’s best known to southern Maine audiences as the principal keyboardist for Portland’s Kotzschmar Memorial Organ and as the music director of Brunswick’s First Parish Church.
Choral director Paul McGovern teaches music at Portland High School and conducts choirs in Cape Elizabeth and Standish.
Other Maine musicians with prominent parts in the Bach Festival are violinist Charles Dimmick, who is concertmaster with the Portland Symphony Orchestra; cellist Deb Dabczynski, who also plays with the PSO; tenor George Eisenhauer, who studied voice at USM, and bass John Adams, who frequently performs with Maine ensembles.
Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. program features five major works: a concerto grosso by Arcangelo Corelli, a concerto for two violins by Antonio Vivaldi plus an orchestral suite and two cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.
On Sunday at 4 p.m., the festival will present a rare summer performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” a massive oratorio for four vocalists, full chorus and orchestra that is one of the most celebrated and popular works in the classical canon.
Both performances are slated for the Leura Eastman Arts Center on the Fryeburg Academy campus. Call 935-9232 or visit mwvevents.com/WMMABach.html.
Brave Combo is a dance-swing band that hails from Denton, Texas, but its music reflects the world. Trying to describe Brave Combo requires a rather extensive vocabulary, at least when it comes to musical styles. For more than three decades the quintet has perfected a world music mix that includes salsa, meringue, rock, cumbia, conjunto, polka, zydeco, classical, cha cha, blues and more.
Several of those genres involve dancing, and Brave Combo likes to bill itself as “America’s Premier Dance band.” Plus it takes concert-goers on a rollicking, rocking, rhythmic global journey.
Brave Combo’s catalog of recordings – 41 albums released in North America plus half a dozen in overseas markets – range from Japanese pop to Latin American dance tunes, orchestral classics and traditional rock and roll at its finest. Since its beginnings, Brave Combo has been nominated for seven Grammy Awards, winning a pair. The two winners were garnered by the albums “Polkasonic” in 1999 and “Let’s Kiss” in 2004. Film and television appearances range from an Academy Award-winner to an episode of “The Simpsons.”
Carl Finch, who plays guitar, keyboards and accordion, founded the band in 1979. Since 1983 he’s been playing alongside Jeffrey Barnes, who is known for his lively and imaginative stage wear as well as playing an array of reeds and woodwinds, harmonica, pennywhistle, guitars and other musical devices. Rounding out Brave Combo’s current line-up are trumpet player Danny O’Brien, drummer Alan Emert, bass guitarist “Little Jack Melody” and accordionist Ginny Mac.
Brave Combo’s current eastern U.S. tour comes to an end on Aug. 25, when the bus pulls into One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland) for an 8 p.m. performance. Call 761-1757.
Big bands in Buxton, Portland
It’s not often that two traditional “big-band” orchestras will perform in southern Maine within a six-day span, but that’s about to happen.
On Aug. 25 the Edith Jones Project visits the Saco River Theatre in Buxton. With16 members, the Edith Jones Project plays a traditional jazz repertoire from the 1930s to end of the big band era. They’re particularly known for vocal and instrumental renditions of standards made famous by Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and the Count Basie Orchestra. Saturday will be the eighth consecutive year the Edith Jones Project has appeared at Saco River Theatre.
Two other distinguishing features: Edith Jones Project is an all-woman ensemble and its namesake is a dog.
Catch the Edith Jones Project at 7:30 p.m. at the Saco River Theatre (formerly known as Saco River Grange Hall), Salmon Falls Road in Buxton. Call 929-6472.
On Aug. 30 the Portland Jazz Orchestra plays its regular monthly gig in its namesake city. Band leader is Chris Oberholtzer, director of jazz studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. His 18 colleagues include fellow USM jazz profs plus a number of professional musicians from the Boston area.
Catch the Portland Jazz Orchestra at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland). Call 761-1757.