Out & About: Brown, BAND Band, Beachams and Beethoven

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The second letter of the alphabet provides the common theme for four of this week’s picks of the tix. Otherwise, it’s a fairly disparate lineup.

Fiddler Erica Brown is riding at the top of the Pine Tree State’s traditional music scene these days. The Maine Arts Commission has dubbed her a “Master Artist of Traditional Fiddling,” and she’ll be appearing with her bluegrass band at Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Friday.

The next night The THE BAND Band, a tribute to the music of Bob Dylan, is playing One Longfellow Square.

Graybert Beacham is an outstanding violinist, while wife Karen Beacham is an equally outstanding clarinetist. Hailing from Farmington, the two Beachams will be performing together this Sunday as guests of the Portland String Quartet.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Feb. 5 concert features the most famous work by the most famous composer in all of classical music: Symphony No. 5 of Ludwig van Beethoven. Its opening four notes are familiar to millions of people who have never heard another scrap of classical.

Erica Brown and Bluegrass Connection

How time flies. It seems like only yesterday that I was attending bluegrass festivals and Franco music gatherings and noticing a precocious child fiddler playing far better than most longtime veterans of the instrument. A dozen years and many prizes and honors later, Erica Brown is a young woman who’s recognized as one of Maine’s premier old-time musicians.

She has recorded five albums and has opened concerts for several national touring stars. Equally fluent in several time-honored fiddling styles, for the past couple of years Brown’s main interest has been bluegrass. She teaches at the 317 Main Street Community Music Center in Yarmouth, plus she’s a member of The Stowaways, Record Family Band and has often collaborated with bluegrass singer-songwriter Ted DeMille.

She’s appearing this Friday at Portland’s One Longfellow Square with her own four-man band, Bluegrass Connection. Brown has played this venue often, and held the CD release party there to promote her most recent effort, “From Now On,” two years ago.

Erica Brown and Bluegrass Connection play at 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.


The Band was one of the pioneering groups of roots-rockers in the 1960s and 1970s. These five Canadian men got started as a backup band – hence the name – for a number of stars. They started with Ronnie Hawkins and later toured for years with Bob Dylan.

Plus The Band recorded 10 albums under their own curiously generic moniker, mostly songs written by members. Three of the best-remembered tunes are “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” About 10 years ago Rolling Stone magazine gave them the No. 50 ranking in its “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

The Band’s exuberant decades of roots-rock are recalled by a tribute act that calls itself The THE BAND Band, five guys who look and sound like the originals. All are longtime veteran performers who have “banded” together on this project for the sheer love of performing the music. The fivesome will be performing this Saturday in Portland in a program that they’re describing as “a nod to Bob, featuring the songs of Bob Dylan.” Plus they’re promising to play a selection of The Band’s own independent hits.

Catch The THE BAND Band at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland String Quartet

I love the combination of strings and woodwinds in classical music, so I find this Sunday’s concert by the Portland String Quartet to be especially appealing. Clarinetist Karen Beacham, a music professor at the University of Maine at Farmington, will be the featured guest in a performance of Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Quintet in B-flat Major.

She’ll be joined by PSQ violinist Ron Lantz, violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross. Husband Graybert Beacham, also a UMF music professor, will substitute for violinist Stephen Kecskemethy during his illness.

Also scheduled are Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major and Gordon Jacob’s Sonatina for Two Violas, with Graybert Beacham switching to viola for this piece. Jacob was an English composer and pedagogue who wrote and published more than 400 works in the middle of the 20th century, but his music was characterized by conservative 18th- and 19th-century stylistic leanings.

Catch the Portland String Quartet and guests at 2 p.m. Feb. 3 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Who’s the most famous classical composer in history? Most people, even those with zero interest in classical music, know the answer: Ludwig van Beethoven. And his most famous work? Again, Symphony No. 5, with its distinctive dum-dum-dum-DUUUUUM opening phrase, is the quick answer.

Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody has programmed No. 5 to anchor the Feb. 5 Classical Tuesday concert.

PSO program annotator Mark Rohr notes that the opening phrase,  the “motive,” drives the work’s endless fascination for longtime classical fans (such as myself) and relative newcomers to the genre.

“The essence of the motive is rhythm; three short notes, one long,” explains Rohr. “This rhythm is pervasive: you find it everywhere you look.”

And it propels the entire symphony from the outset. “In the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, nearly every note that follows can be traced back to Beethoven’s simple four-note motive,” comments Rohr. “This is what gives the music its inexorable inner logic and its extraordinary power.”

Two more “B-list” items precede No. 5: Bela Bartok’s “Miraculous Mandarin” and “Butterfly Lovers” by He Zhanhao and Chen Gung. The first is an orchestral suite derived from an earlier ballet score. It dates from 1928, but is based on much earlier work. Rohr notes that the composer’s central message is “the unconquerable power of human aspiration over every obstacle — even death.”

“Butterfly Lovers” is described as a concerto for violin and orchestra, and premiered in Shanghai in 1959. A few years later it was severely condemned by the Chinese Communist Party as “western,” “bourgeois” and “corrupt” and the composers were placed under house arrest and given a punitive “re-education.”

Only in more recent decades has “Butterfly Lovers” been performed in its native country, and Rohr notes that it is steadily finding favor with wider audiences.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Fiddler Erica Brown fronts Bluegrass Connection, a traditional Maine string band that will play this Friday at One Longfellow Square in Portland.