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Out & About: New seasons get underway

Lifestyle

Out & About: New seasons get underway

The Portland Symphony Orchestra and the University of Southern Maine School of Music open their 2010-2011 seasons this weekend with concerts in the Port City and Gorham.

USM’s School of Music begins its Spotlight Series Friday and Sunday with pianist Laura Kargul performing a program that features two great Romantic composers.

The PSO plays its first program twice, on Sunday and Tuesday. Maestro Robert Moody will take the podium; double bassist Edgar Meyer will be the guest artist.

Lyric Music Theater opened its 58th season last weekend in South Portland with a superb community production of “Evita,” a seven-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.

Another noteworthy musical event is Ahmad Hassan Muhammad Trio, a modern jazz threesome that plays Oct. 6 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

Laura Kargul

In 2010 music aficionados are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of two great Romantic pianist-composers: Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann. On Friday, Oct. 1, I’ll be celebrating by attending a Chopin-Schumann concert performed by Laura Kargul, a resident of Freeport and professor of piano at the University of Maine School of Music.

Kargul’s recital is the 2010-2011 season-opener of USM’s Spotlight Series. She represents USM star power, consistently opening the series and drawing the biggest audiences – which usually include me. This year’s recital is expected to attract so many that two performances are slated, on Friday and Sunday.

Kargul is of Polish descent and was deeply involved in the Polish community in her native Detroit. That makes her lifelong connection to Polish-born Chopin especially significant. In addition, she’s also noted as a specialist in the Romantic era, and no composer epitomizes that time frame and artistic framework better than Chopin.

Chopin selections include the raging Prelude in D Minor, the sweepingly Romantic Barcarolle and the thrilling Polonaise in A Flat Major. Kargul promises that her selections will lead listeners through the composer’s extraordinary emotional landscape.

The second half of the program comprises Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, which is widely considered to be his greatest work for solo piano. And Kargul points out a bit of back story. It was composed for the purpose of raising money for a monument to Ludwig van Beethoven, and used one of that composer’s romantic themes. It also contained a secret musical message to Schumann’s own romantic interest, who later married him.

Catch this celebratory concert at 8 p.m. Oct. 1 and 3 p.m. Oct. 3 at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra, entering its 86th year – and the third under the baton of music director Robert Moody – opens its 2010-2011 schedule with two performances within three days. The Sunday Classical Series opens Oct. 3 and the flagship Tuesday Classical Series begins Oct. 5.

The guest artist will be an unusual treat: a traveling double bassist – rare breed, indeed – who turns his supersized violin into a virtuosic instrument that’s equally at home in the Classical repertoire and the American popular vernacular. Edgar Meyer's expressive style and unmatched bowing technique, combined with a gift for composition, has collected three Grammy Awards and he was the first double bassist to win the Avery Fisher Prize.

One featured work on the program will be Meyer’s own Concerto No. 1, inspired by bluegrass. Purely orchestra numbers open and close: Richard Strauss’ powerful tone poem, “Don Juan,” and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Symphony No. 4.

Catch these two concerts at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 3 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Evita’

Andrew Lloyd Webber is the most successful composer of West End (London) and Broadway musicals of modern times, and his third effort, “Evita,” perfectly epitomizes his lushly melodic style. With lyrics by Tim Rice, “Evita” debuted on Broadway in 1979, winning seven Tony Awards and picking up a Grammy too.

Based on the real life story of Eva Peron, charismatic mistress (later wife) of the dictator of Argentina in the middle part of the 20th century, the show has long been a top choice of professional and community groups. Lyric Music Theater, a topnotch community troupe in South Portland, has chosen “Evita” to open its 2010-2011 season.

I loved the opening night performance. Kristin Riley radiates star quality in the title role, a woman of low birth who relentlessly and promiscuously climbed the social and political ladder. She has a fine voice, so needed for her biggest number, plus a commanding stage presence. Professional theater director Ray Dumont brilliantly helms this production, using a down-sized vision that works artistically and is entirely appropriate for a community company.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Evita” through Oct. 9 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-6509.

Ahmad Hassan Muhammad Trio

A couple of weeks ago I attended a concert by an up-and-coming modern jazz trio, and I came away extremely impressed by the musical experience and the young man who leads the group.

Ahmad Hassan Muhammad is a pianist-composer who originally hails from the Cincinnati area and recently graduated from Bowdoin College. Today he lives in Portland and fronts an eponymous jazz trio that has been making waves locally and will soon be hitting the road on a national tour.

I find it significant that Muhammad deliberately chose a liberal arts education at Bowdoin, rather than attending a conservatory where the total focus is on developing professional performers. The pianist studied with Naydene Bowder at Bowdoin and commuted to Boston to work with Aaron Goldberg. Muhammad credits the latter with inspiring his creative muse and helping him discover his own distinctive musical voice and style. At the recent concert I attended, about 90 percent of the selections were original compositions.

Muhammad is solidly backed by bassist Stu Mahan and drummer Phil McGowan, who trade solo roles with ease and truly work as a team. Their joint efforts are characterized by strong melodic lines and gently pulsating rhythms that mesmerize listeners and carry audiences along for a ride.

The Ahmad Hassan Muhammad Trio experience can be likened to a musical bubble bath: at once intimate, scintillating, sensual and soothing.

Come get intimate with this wonderful threesome at Oct. 6 at One Longfellow Square in Portland (corner of Congress and State) at 8 p.m. Call 761-1757.