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Out & About: Oratorio Chorale opens its season

Lifestyle

Out & About: Oratorio Chorale opens its season

By mid-November, nearly every performing arts organization in southern Maine has opened its fall-winter-spring season. One of the last to start is the Mid-Coast-based Oratorio Chorale, which has a pair of concerts coming up Saturday and Sunday in Topsham and Yarmouth. Music director Peter Frewen has selected works by Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will again play under the baton of a guest conductor this Sunday. The visiting maestro will be Timothy Myers, who normally helms the North Carolina Opera. Another visiting artist will be longtime Canadian Brass hornist Jeff Nelsen.

Veteran bluesman John Hammond will visit Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday. Hammond will be appearing a few days past his 70th birthday celebration, but more importantly, this year he’s celebrating his 50th year as a professional musician.

Oratorio Chorale

The Oratorio Chorale opens its 39th season this weekend with performances in Topsham and Yarmouth, accompanied by instrumentalists from the Maine Chamber Ensemble.

The Oratorio Chorale is an independent auditioned ensemble numbering between 35 and 40 singers that has been prominent in the Mid-Coast and southern Maine since 1974. Their repertoire ranges from Baroque to contemporary, and they produce their own three-concert season and frequently collaborate with orchestras and other musical entities.

Music director Peter Frewen, who has led the group since 1975, has selected a program featuring pieces by Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that illustrate the combined effects of colors of sound and passionate expression.

Schubert’s Mass in E Flat was written in 1828, only a year before the composer’s death, and Frewen notes its enormous range. Frewen comments that the work is characterized by “large shapes of sound, achieving powerful, intense climaxes and satisfying every discerning aesthetic and emotive response.”

Three smaller works by Mozart round out the program. “Sanctus Maria” and “Misericordia Domini” reflect the Latin tradition of the Catholic Church, while “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is one of Mozart’s best-known short instrumental essays.

This concert will be performed twice this weekend: at Orion Performing Arts Center (Mt. Ararat Middle School) in Topsham at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 and Sacred Heart Church in Yarmouth at 3 p.m. Nov. 18. Call 798-7985.

John Hammond

John Hammond, a veteran bluesman who is celebrating a pair of life’s landmarks in 2012, will be the featured artist this Saturday at One Longfellow Square.

Landmarks of life? For starters, Hammond turned 70 years old on Tuesday. But more significantly, 2012 marks a half-century as a professional musician. Also this year Hammond was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame, an honor which follows last year’s National Blues Hall of Fame.

Born in New York City into a musical family, Hammond started playing guitar and singing in high school. By 1962 – not yet 20 years old – he was living in Greenwich Village, playing for paychecks and hanging out and performing with some of the leading lights of that formative and profoundly influential musical scene: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. Hammond formed his own group, and for a brief period in the 1960s, both Clapton and Hendrix were band mates.

Although Hammond never enjoyed the immense popular fame achieved by some of his musical confederates, he has persisted in his art. Among his achievement are 33 albums, which stretch from the days of the 33 rpm LP vinyl record into today’s digital download era. Hammond show no signs of slowing down: Seven of his albums date from after 2000 and the most recent, “Rough & Tough,” was released three years ago. It garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Blues Album.

Hammond plays a National Reso-Phonic guitar, which was designed for blues guitarists in the 1930s. It is characterized by a metallic cone that projects and naturally amplifies the sound. Strings are plucked with finger picks and the frequencies (notes) are defined by sliding a steel cylinder across the neck, rather than by pressing the strings against frets.

(Purely by happenstance, this week marks the second consecutive Maine performance by an artist whose specialty is the acoustic resonator guitar. On Saturday, Jerry Douglas performed in Westbrook.)

Catch John Hammond at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Nov. 17. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Two visiting artists headline this Sunday’s Portland Symphony Orchestra concert, which features major works by Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky.

On the podium, guest maestro Timothy Myers will conduct the orchestra. Myers, who helms North Carolina Opera, is a friend and associate of PSO music director Robert Moody, who is a native Carolinian and also leads a symphony in Winston-Salem. Myers is known as a technically precise conductor who also enjoys a rapidly growing reputation as one of the youngest American maestros to emerge upon the national music scene.

The second guest will be virtuoso Jeff Nelsen, who will do the solo honors in Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1. For more than two decades Nelsen has forged a career in both symphonic and popular settings. He is best known as the hornist with the Canadian Brass, but he’s also had solo engagements with major symphony orchestras across his native land and the U.S. On the popular side, he’s played in the pit for two Broadway shows.

The first two pieces on the program are by Carl Maria von Weber and Claude Debussy. The former was the quintessential German Romantic artist, while the latter was the epitome of French musical impressionism – a term that the composer himself detested.

The Strauss concerto, which dates from 1883, follows. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr notes that the concerto was written by the son of a virtuoso horn player, commenting that “Richard Strauss’ works show both a love for the instrument and a canny awareness of its capabilities.”

The second half of the concert will be devoted to a single major 20th-century work, the orchestral suite from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” a landmark ballet that was introduced in Paris in 1910. The suite, which was assembled and premiered 35 years after the ballet score, is Stravinsky’s most popular symphonic work. Its brash colors and dynamic rhythms are both challenging and pleasing, and the finale is particularly well loved. “The celebrated closing pages are some of the most thrilling music ever written,” explains Rohr.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 18. Call PortTix at 842-0800.