Out & About: A cornucopia of concerts

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Musical concerts take the top spots in this week’s picks of the tix, and there’s plenty of variety among the choices.

Oratorio Chorale is opening its 43rd season this Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Brunswick with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.” The Chorale will be joined by four guest soloists plus a small orchestra. Artistic director Emily Isaacson calls “Elijah” the biggest production she’s ever done.

The U.S. Army’s Jazz Ambassadors, 19 members strong, will be featured this Saturday and Sunday on the next Pops! program of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

Portland Ovations continues its classical series Nov. 15 with the small Boston-based orchestra called A Far Cry, plus clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer. Works on the program span about 800 years, from 12th-century Germany to 20th-century America.

The DaPonte String Quartet will open its 2016-2017 subscription series with concerts next week in Portland, Gardiner and Brunswick.

Oratorio Chorale

The prophet Elijah, venerated by Jews, Christians and Muslims, was one of the most powerfully inspiring figures of antiquity, and over the centuries he has become the subject of many works of art.

In music, Felix Mendelssohn’s epic oratorio, scored for four soloists, symphony orchestra and four-part chorus, is the definitive work about the prophet. The oratorio debuted in England in 1846, and “Elijah” has been popular ever since, particularly in English-speaking countries.

This weekend, the Oratorio Chorale will open its 2016-2017 season with two performances of “Elijah” in Portland and Brunswick under the direction of Emily Isaacson, now in her fourth season at the helm of the Chorale, which has been an anchor of the Maine music scene since 1974.

It’s a big undertaking, admits Isaacson. “Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ is the most dramatic, most epic work I have ever conducted,” she says. “It is massive and awesome in the truest sense of the word. But what continually surprises me is that this story… could not feel more contemporary and relevant. It is about us and for us. Mendelssohn’s great gift as a composer is his ability to pull on every heart string – fear, hope, despair, comfort – and make it feel immediate and urgent. It is going to be a thrilling experience.”

Isaacson is calling in some powerful musical forces. Joining the 50-member Chorale will be four professional soloists, headed by bass-baritone Dashon Burton in the title role. Burton is a globetrotting singer with wide-ranging experience with large-scale classical works and symphony orchestras. He’s also a co-founder of A Roomful of Teeth, a traveling vocal troupe. Among Burton’s many honors is a Grammy Award.

Tenor Dann Coakwell is another Grammy winner. The two female soloists will be mezzo-soprano Kate Maroney and soprano Nola Richardson. The instrumental parts will be filled by the Midcoast-based Maine Chamber Ensemble.

Oratorio Chorale presents “Elijah” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at St. Luke’s Cathedral Church, 143 State St. in Portland and 3 p.m. Nov. 13 at St. John the Baptist Church, 39 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.

Portland Symphony

Another impressive array of musical forces will assemble in Merrill Auditorium this weekend as the Portland Symphony Orchestra presents the second Pops! program in its 2016-2017 season.

There will be 19 guest artists: the entire corps of the Jazz Ambassadors, a unit of the U.S. Army Field Band. Formed in 1969, the Jazz Ambassadors are styled as “America’s Big Band,” and they specialize in a musical genre that is native to our country. Their diverse repertoire includes big band swing, bebop, Latin, contemporary jazz, standards, popular tunes, Dixieland, vocals and patriotic selections. The Jazz Ambassadors have performed in all 50 states and more than a dozen foreign countries.

They’ll be joining about 60 members of the PSO, under the direction of Andrew Crust, who was recently named the orchestra’s assistant maestro and director of community outreach.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra and the Jazz Ambassadors at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 13. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

A Far Cry, David Krakauer

Portland Ovations continues its classical series next week with an interesting group of traveling musicians. The marquee name is A Far Cry, a 17-member orchestra from Boston that operates under an interesting collective leadership concept. Formed 10 years ago, A Far Cry is the resident musical ensemble at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

A Far Cry’s guest soloist will be clarinet virtuoso David Krakauer, who’ll perform in the largest piece of the evening.

The program is titled “Dreams and Prayers,” and it comprises three notable works, beginning with a piece by Saint Hildegard von Bingen, a visionary nun and scholar from 12th-century Germany. Another German piece will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang,” the well-known third movement from his String Quartet No. 15.

The title work was written by Argentinian-born Israeli-American composer Oswaldo Golijov. His “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” is scored for klezmer clarinet plus small orchestra. Golijov is one of today’s most successful classical composers and has two Grammys in his trophy case.

Portland Ovations presents A Far Cry with David Krakauer at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet is beginning its 24th season with a program that features one major classical work, one major 20th-century work plus a small piece appropriately titled “Microcosms.”

Formed in Philadelphia in the early 1990s, the quartet surprised the musical world by moving to Maine in 1996. Even more surprising to the musical world, they stayed and have become pillars of Maine’s cultural life.

Current members of the DSQ are violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes plus violist Kirsten Monke and cellist Miles Jordan. (Liva and Jordan are founding members.) The DSQ has a performing series going nearly every month of the year, geographically scattered between Ogunquit and Rockport.

The first program of the season includes three works. Best known are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 and Sergei Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2, both of which are standards of the genre.

“Microcosms” was written a couple of years ago by John Heiss, a professor of composition at the New England Conservatory in Boston. It has eight tiny movements – averaging less than two minutes apiece – that display facile wit and emotional depth.

The DaPonte String Quartet has scheduled four upcoming performances: Nov. 12 in Boothbay Harbor, Nov. 17 in Portland, Nov. 19 in Gardiner and Nov. 20 in Brunswick. For details, call 529-4555 or visit DaPonte.org.

A Far Cry is a small Boston-based orchestra that will be featured in the Nov. 15 concert hosted by Portland Ovations.

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