Out & About: Beethoven’s Ninth, ‘Annie’ top picks

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As the end of April approaches, several of southern Maine’s most prominent arts producers and presenters are approaching their seasonal exits.

And they’re doing it big.

Portland Symphony Orchestra’s penultimate classical program will feature the blockbuster Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig van Beethoven, famous for its fourth movement, characterized by massive vocal power.

Portland Ovations’ penultimate Broadway offering of 2016-2017 is a national touring production of “Annie,” the massively popular seven-time Tony Award-winner about an irrepressibly optimistic little girl in a red dress.

Portland String Quartet wraps up its 2016-2017 season this Sunday with works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Antonin Dvorak and Walter Piston.

Lindsay Straw is a Boston-based folk singer from the city’s Irish tradition. She’s recorded a new album that’s centered on strong female characters. It will be released next week, and she’ll visit Portland’s Blue on April 26 to promote it.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

“All people become brothers” is the translation of one of the stirring phrases from one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, noted especially for the huge vocal section of its fourth movement, is known to audiences who have never attended an orchestral concert.

That’s one of the reasons the Portland Symphony Orchestra expects to sell every seat in Merrill Auditorium this Sunday and Tuesday, as maestro Robert Moody finishes his three-year journey through all of Beethoven’s symphonies with No. 9.

Composed in 1824 at the end of Beethoven’s life, No. 9 is clearly his symphonic valedictory. Capping a lifetime of innovations and unprecedented compositional techniques, Beethoven elected to use voices in the fourth movement. His choice for a lyric was Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” (“An die Freude” in the original German), an anthem of the early Romantic era. The result is utterly, strikingly beautiful, and No. 9 has been a staple of the concert hall for nearly 200 years, despite the immensity of the undertaking.

The vocal parts are written for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, backed by a very large chorus. Moody has engaged four professionals to sing the lead parts, with the vocal horsepower supplied by two Maine groups, ChoralArt Masterworks, directed by Robert Russell, and Oratorio Chorale, directed by Emily Isaacson.

Leading off the concert will be another strikingly beautiful piece, Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

Two performances of this program are scheduled for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: April 23 at 2:30 p.m. and April 25 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.


“The sun will come out tomorrow.”

That’s the opening line from the best-known song from one of the most popular Broadway musicals ever written. “Annie” was the darling of the 1976-1977 Broadway season, copping seven Tony Awards, including the most coveted trio: Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.

The script was written by Thomas Meehan, based on the title character from Harold Gray’s long-running comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.” Charles Strouse wrote the music and Martin Charnin penned the lyrics.

The story is one of hope and optimism in times of despair, the Great Depression of the 1930s. A national search for Annie’s parents leads to a new tomorrow for America, and that uplifting message is delivered with huge dollops of gorgeous melody and great humor.

Meehan created some wonderful characters. Daddy Warbucks, a bluff, bald, kind-hearted billionaire, is of course lifted directly from Gray’s original cartoons. Comic characters who were invented especially for “Annie” include the lovelorn alcoholic matron of New York’s orphanage, her jailbird brother and his vivacious, obnoxious and flamboyant girlfriend.

In addition to its long initial Broadway run, “Annie” has been revived several times on the Great White Way and has long been a staple of professional, community and high school theater companies. It’s definitely one of my all-time favorites; I’ve seen it at least a dozen times.

Currently a national Broadway tour is on the road, and Portland Ovations has snagged a stop, scheduled for Thursday, April 27 with an especially early 6 p.m. curtain at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland String Quartet

The end is near for the 2018-2017 season of the Portland String Quartet, a classical foursome who have been mainstays of the Maine music scene since 1969. Comprising Dean Stein and Ron Lantz on violins, Julia Adams on viola and Patrick Owen on cello, the PSQ has a varied program slated for this Sunday.

Three works representing three time periods and three countries make up the program. First up will be Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet No. 4. Haydn was an Austrian who composed in the late 18th century. This particular work is from a group that essentially invented the string quartet as we know it today.

Antonin Dvorak was a 19th-century Czech, and his String Quartet No. 11 represents the an apotheosis of the Romantic period in music.

Walter Piston was a 20th-century American composer who was born in Rockland. The PSQ had a very close relationship with Piston during the later years of his life. For this Sunday’s concert, the PSQ will play his String Quartet No. 5, an exemplar of the 12-tone school of composition.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St., on April 23 at 2 p.m. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

Lindsay Straw

A rising star on Boston’s traditional music scene is coming to Portland on April 26, two days before her second CD is set to be released. Lindsay Straw sings beautifully and plays guitar and Irish bouzouki, an eight-string guitar-like instrument.

Originally from Montana, Straw arrived in Boston to study at the famed Berklee College of Music, and got involved in music from Ireland and the British Isles. Now she lives in the city and performs frequent solo gigs and often plays with The Ivy Leaf, a Boston-based Irish band.

I like Straw’s solo style. Her voice is clear and unaffected, accompanied by a gentle finger-picking guitar technique. She reminds me greatly of the very early years of Joan Baez, when she performed traditional folk music almost exclusively.

Straw recently recorded a collection of traditional songs with triumphant female protagonists for release as an album. The official drop date for “The Fairest Flower of Womankind” is April 28. On April 26 she’ll be the featured artist at Irish Night at Blue, 650A Congress St. in Portland. Call 774-4111. The featured artist normally starts around 7:30 p.m., followed by an open Irish session.

“Annie,” the hit Broadway musical about an irrepressibly optimistic girl and her billionaire adoptive dad, will be presented by Portland Ovations on April 27.