Out & About: 'A Night at the Movies' with Portland Symphony

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The 85th Academy Awards ceremonies will be happening this Sunday. If your invitation to the Hollywood extravaganza was lost in the mail, you might want to celebrate instead by attending a symphonic concert based on favorite movie themes over the decades.

That’s the plan for the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this Saturday and Sunday. The program is titled “A Night at the Movies,” and an intriguing guest conductor will be on the podium.

The Barra MacNeils comprise six musical siblings from Nova Scotia who have been performing together for a quarter century. They’re ranked among the top Celtic music groups in the world, and this Friday they’ll be appearing in Portland at One Longfellow Square.

The next night, One Longfellow Square hosts Steve Forbert, a singer-songwriter who has earned a national reputation for his taut, poetic lyrics. He is best-known for his 1979 hit, “Romeo’s Tune.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Since the inception of movies with sound in the 1930s, Hollywood has sought out the best composers to write scores, and film soundtracks have produced some of the most memorable music over a period of four generations. This Sunday Hollywood is holding its annual Oscars extravaganza to honor the best and brightest in the film industry.

In celebration of the star-studded event, Portland Symphony Orchestra will present “A Night at the Movies,” a pops program entirely comprising hit music from films. It will be performed twice, on Saturday and Sunday.

Maestro Robert Moody has invited a guest to stand on the podium and lead the orchestra. Carl Topilow, also known as the “clarinet-toting conductor,” is renowned worldwide for his versatility, whether he is holding the baton or his trademark red clarinet.

He is a multi-talented virtuoso equally at home in classical and popular music both as conductor and instrumentalist. His unique approach to pops programming includes extensive audience involvement and imaginative showmanship. As a guest conductor, Topilow has appeared around the world with nearly 100 orchestras, in 30 states in the U.S. and countries across the globe.

In addition to his busy conducting schedule, Topilow avidly pursues his passion for performing as clarinetist. This weekend, PSO patrons will experience both sides of Topilow’s talents.

The concert will feature musical selections from film favorites including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Rocky,” “The Godfather,” “ET,” “Titanic,” “Chicago” and many more. Of all the composers represented on Topilow’s program, John Williams, the longtime pops conductor for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has the biggest contribution, with no fewer than six pieces. Other works include a Hollywood medley and a suite of music from the James Bond movies.

Adding to the Oscars’ spirit, attendees are encouraged to dress like Hollywood movie stars and experience the PSO red carpet. During the performance, PSO will host movie trivia with a chance to win tickets to upcoming performances.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “A Night at the Movies” for two performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 24 at 2:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Barra MacNeils

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia is intensely proud of its Scottish heritage. After all, Nova Scotia means “New Scotland” in Latin. Among the province’s claims to world fame are many performing artists who carry traditional Celtic music around the globe.

Among the proudest and best-established of these is the Barra MacNeils, six musical siblings with the MacNeil surname who have been performing together for a quarter of a century. Clan MacNeil originally hails from the Scottish island of Barra; hence the ensemble’s name.

As a group, the six MacNeil siblings are widely regarded as one of the greatest live concert acts in the Celtic world. Natives of Sydney Mines, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, the family group is deeply rooted in Celtic music, culture, dance, language and history. Their numerous critically acclaimed recordings have included their own original songs as well as tried-and-true standards, both instrumental and vocal.

A Barra MacNeils concert is a lively experience, with most members of the group proficient in more than one facet of the performance. Here’s the lineup:

Kyle MacNeil, vocals, guitar, violin and mandolin; Lucy, vocals, bodhran, Celtic harp, fiddle and step dancing; Sheumas, keyboards, piano, bodhran, fiddle, bouzouki and vocals; Stewart, vocals, accordion, tin whistle, flute, bouzouki, guitar and step dancing; Boyd, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo, percussion and step dancing; Ryan, keyboards, percussion, uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bodhran and step dancing.

Plus there’s a seventh performer who’s not a member of the family, bassist Jamie Gatti.

A year ago the family ensemble marked its 25th anniversary, and it was accented with two new recording projects: a live CD made with the Nova Scotia Symphony, and “Celtic Colours,” which features a wide variety of musical guests from the folk, Americana and Celtic music worlds.

Other recent Barra MacNeils releases have covered the span of their entire career, as well as live concerts reflecting the artistic journey from humble family beginnings to global acclaim. Concert touring in support of these projects has taken the group to theatre and festival stages coast to coast across Canada, had them jetting across America from festival stage to theatre stages and beyond, as well as sending them to Ireland and Scotland for events across the Atlantic.

Catch the Barra MacNeils in concert at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Steve Forbert

“I love you” is the simple theme that powers many thousands of popular songs in myriad variations. But none conveys the longing message better than Steve Forbert’s “Romeo’s Tune,” a lushly melodic and driving pop anthem that’s focused on a lady with “Southern kisses” and the perceived scent of moon in her perfume. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorite pop songs.

Written and released in 1979, “Romeo’s Tune” reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart, and it has remained a staple of Triple-A radio ever since. For better or worse, “Romeo’s Tune” also sort of defined Forbert’s career, overshadowing many of the 58-year-old Mississippi singer-songwriter’s other accomplishments, which include 14 studio albums, nine live albums and a slew of compilations.

The most recent was released last year: “Over With You,” on the Blue Corn label.

Steve Forbert and his band will be appearing at 8 p.m. Feb. 23 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Carl Topilow is equally well known as a clarinetist and symphonic conductor. On Feb. 23 and 24 he will do both as he leads the Portland Symphony Orchestra in a pops program based on movie themes.