Out & About: Beethoven, bluegrass and Betsy Sholl

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There’s an interesting amalgam of musical offerings this week, ranging from classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven, to classic bluegrass, to a contemporary jazz setting of poet Betsy Scholl.

Portland Symphony Orchestra continues its Classical Series on Sunday and Tuesday with a concert featuring Beethoven’s celebrated Symphony No. 5.

Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 is the featured work on Monday, when Decompression Chamber Music resumes its series at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

The same venue will host Maine fiddling phenom Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, former Maine Poet Laureate Betsy Sholl will team up with a pair of musicians in a concert produced by Dimensions in Jazz at the Portland Conservatory of Music.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

For its next program in the Classical Series, the Portland Symphony Orchestra has planned something akin to a “greatest hits” bash. Three outstanding, and very different, composers will be showcased, each by his most famous work.

The concert will open with the overture to Bedrich Smetana’s “The Bartered Bride,” a happy opera overflowing with great music. Smetna was a Czech composer who wrote many operas, but this is considered his masterpiece.

Erich Korngold was an Austrian-American composer who was best known for the scores to many of the classic movies of the 1930s. His concert music is less known. Korngold’s Violin Concerto, writeen shortly after World War II, is the best-known of these works. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr comments that one reason is simple: The composer borrows several popular themes from his own films.

With its famous four-note opening, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is better known to general audiences than any other piece of classical music. Representing the apotheosis of the composer’s illustrious career, No. 5 also represents the continuation of the PSO’s three-season goal of performing all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra, led by maestro Robert Moody, will perform this program twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 2:30 p.m. May 1 and 7:30 p.m. May 3. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Decompression Chamber Music

A major string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven will be performed early Monday evening in Portland as Decompression Chamber Music resumes its ongoing series at One Longfellow Square. Decompression Chamber Music is a classical ensemble, usually configured at a string quartet, led by cello virtuoso Priscilla Taylor.

A native of Blue Hill with strong Portland connections, Taylor lives in Boston but has found One Longfellow Square to be a congenial venue for the past several years. “We have a very loyal audience that keeps coming back,” she avers. (DCM also plays at Cambridge’s famed Club Passim.) The rest of DCM comprises violinists Colin Davis, who frequently performs with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, Piotr Buczek, a native of Poland who has toured as a soloist and ensemble member all over the U.S. and Europe, and violist Emily Rideout, a frequent performer with several prominent Hub orchestras.

Taylor has selected Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12 for Monday. It is one of the composer’s “late quartets,” written in 1824 when he was totally deaf. Taylor notes that Beethoven supervised its rehearsal and first performance by watching the musicians’ movements, rather than hearing them.

It was a crucial time for the composer. “Beethoven was a celebrity, but he saw fewer and fewer people, and was riddled with anxiety,” comments Taylor. “Yet when he settled down to work on his 12th string quartet, he managed to bring all the deep sweetness that was missing from his life into his music.”

That insight is among many that Taylor will share with her audience on Monday. DCM’s format is to informally discuss each movement of each work before playing. “We help bring the audience through each piece of music,” explains Taylor.

Decompression Chamber Music is an after-work concert, slated for 6 p.m. May 2 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection

It’s official. The Maine Arts Commission has proclaimed Erica Brown a “Master of Traditional Fiddling,” one of many honors bestowed on one of our state’s most distinguished musicians.

Brown started playing the fiddle at the age of six and has been performing in public since she was nine, traveling throughout New England, Canada and Louisiana. Unusual among bluegrass fiddlers, Brown also has deep roots in the classical tradition, which accounts for the precision that augments her passion for the instrument.

Brown is a member of three traditional Maine ensembles – The Stowaways, Darlin’ Corey and The Record Family Band – and the leader of her own. This Saturday Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection will be the featured act at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

The Connection is a traditional five-part bluegrass band. In addition to herself on fiddle, the Connection boasts Matt Shipman on guitar, Steve Roy on mandolin, Read McNamara on banjo and Ken Taylor on upright bass.

Catch Erica Brown and the Bluegrass Connection at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland at 8 p.m. April 30. Call 761-1757.

Dimensions in Jazz

April is National Poetry Month, and one of its more interesting celebrations is happening this Saturday, when Paul Lichter’s Dimensions in Jazz series presnts a pair of prominent poets in an unusual musical setting.

Best-known among the pair is Betsy Sholl, who has published eight collections of poetry beginning in 1974. A Portland resident, Sholl is the former Poet Laureate of Maine, holding the honor between 2006 and 2011. She gives frequent readings around our state and teaches writing at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Vermont.

Sholl will peform with Gary Wittner on electric guitar and Jim Cameron on tenor and soprano saxophones. This performance is a well-polished act, according to Lichter, who has hosted it before. “Betsy and the two musicians are totally committed to each other for this performance,” says Lichter.

In a similar vein, Boston poet Ruth Lepson and two musicians comprise the second half of this double bill. For the past two decades, Lepson has taught at the New England Conservatory, where she has focused on how poetry sounds. Since 1980 she has published five volumes of poems, most recently this year, when “Ask Anyone” came out.

For Saturday’s performance Lepson will share the stage with jazz pianist Frank Carlberg and his daughter, 19-year-old Priya, an up-and-coming jazz singer.

Catch this concert at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St., at 8 p.m. Call 828-1310.

Erica Brown is Maine’s top fiddle player. On Saturday, April 30, Brown and her Bluegrass Connection band will play at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

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