Musical offerings dominate this week’s top choices in the performing arts.
Without doubt, the No. 1 pick for the weekend will be Christmas at the Cathedral. The Choral Art Society produces this concert, with four performances scheduled for Dec. 1-2 in Portland.
Another big concert will be Natalie MacMaster’s Dec. 4 Christmas show at Merrill Auditorium. Best-known as a traditional Canadian fiddler who plays in the Cape Breton style, MacMaster adds a distinctively modern touch to her music.
Two very unconventional groups are also performing in Portland. The Bob Band, a tribute act that performs the music of Bob Dylan, appears this Saturday at One Longfellow Square. The Bob Band is celebrating the 45th anniversary of the release of Dylan’s album “John Wesley Harding.”
Cadillac Moon Ensemble will appear on the Portland String Quartet’s subscription series on Sunday. But don’t expect a traditional string quartet. Cadillac Moon Ensemble is an avant-garde group from New York that comprises violin, cello, flute and percussion.
If you are among the many traditionalists who are profoundly saddened by the blizzard of over-hyped, in-your-face commercialism that dominates contemporary Christmas celebrations, you should know that the perfect musical antidote is coming up this weekend.
For a pleasing, harmonious and spiritual experience that is totally in keeping with the core concept of the season, attend the Choral Art Society’s 25th annual Christmas at the Cathedral. I’ve been going for about 10 years, and this outstanding concert has become my personal No. 1.
Under the direction of Robert Russell, a longtime University of Southern Maine professor, the CAS offers a program that exalts the traditional music of the Advent season, augmented by modern works that are in total harmony with those traditions.
Joined by the Portland Brass Quintet plus Dan Moore on the cathedral’s organ, CAS will perform a variety of traditional and modern Christmas music. This year’s guest artist is Suzanne Nance, a conservatory-trained operatic soprano who is best known for hosting the Maine Public Radio’s classical music show.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Christmas at the Cathedral, the CAS has commissioned a new work for brass quintet and chorus from Boston Conservatory music professor Kevin Siegfried.
Each year’s concert includes the signature processional, “Personent Hodie,” an arrangement of a Renaissance tune for brass and organ. The concert concludes with “Silent Night” performed by singers holding lighted candles and encircling the hall.
CAS has about 150 members. All singers are selected by audition; their goal is to enhance their personal musical experience and enrich the cultural life of southern Maine. In addition to their own slate of concerts, CAS performs a major work nearly every year with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
Four performances are planned this weekend at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 Congress St. in Portland: Dec. 1 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In addition, a “special preview” concert will be held on Saturday, Dec. 1 at noon. Call 828-0043.
Portland Ovations brings holiday cheer to Merrill Auditorium with its presentation of virtuoso Canadian fiddler Natalie MacMaster in a special Christmas show on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
MacMaster will perform her holiday concert, titled “Christmas in Cape Breton,” which takes the audience on a musical sleigh ride through Nova Scotia by way of both traditional and contemporary Celtic melodies and Christmas carols. MacMaster brings boundless energy to her live performances with foot-tapping rave-ups, heart-rending ballads and world-class step dancing.
I’ve attended her concerts on several occasions, and she’s definitely one of the most vibrant performing artists I’ve ever seen.
MacMaster has established herself as an electrifying performer across the world with a career spanning more than three-decades and amassing many awards including multiple gold albums, two Grammy nominations (with one win), a Juno Award, eight Canadian Country Music Awards and other accolades. (The Juno Award is Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy.)
Three years ago, four guys from southern Maine and New Hampshire created a very unusual band that exclusively specializes in the music of the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Formed and fronted by Dennis Bailey, The Bob Band plays gigs around New England, often tailoring concerts around specific themes.
Bailey, a passionate Dylan fan, believes in performing the singer’s entire opus, rather than simply concentrating on a concert’s worth of favorite hits. An example happens this Saturday in Portland, when The Bob Band will perform a tribute to the 45th anniversary of the release of Dylan’s seminal album, “John Wesley Harding,” a collection of original songs that marked a return to acoustic roots.
The first half of The Bob Band’s concert will be the complete album. Its best-known song is “All Along the Watchtower.” The second half of the concert will include a sampling of Dylan’s work, which spans more than 50 years and multiple genres.
Catch The Bob Band at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.
Another musical event that’s utterly unrelated to Christmas and totally avant-garde is this Sunday’s concert by Cadillac Moon Ensemble, four exciting young New York artists who are playing on the Portland String Quartet’s subscription series.
Two salient aspects of the Cadillac Moon Ensemble stand out in my mind. First is the very unconventional lineup: a violin, cello, flute and percussion. Because there is very little traditional music written for such a grouping of instruments, CME’s second claim to singularity is that virtually everything they play is written on commission.
Formed in 2007, CME has commissioned more than 50 pieces. CME focuses on retaining the intimacy of chamber music while exploring a very different palette of sonic possibilities.
The ensemble’s connection to the Portland String Quartet? Flutist Roberta Michel grew up in Maine and won the PSQ’s annual high school competition about a decade ago. Her prize for winning was performing on the subscription series. PSQ violist Julia Adams admires the way Michel has seamlessly transitioned from traditional classical repertoire to avant-garde.
The pieces that will be played on this Sunday’s concert all revolve around the theme of movement: what things move, how things move and how they affect other things by their movement.
Catch the Cadillac Moon Ensemble at 2 p.m. Dec. 2 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.
Fiddler Natalie MacMaster will bring her Christmas show to Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Dec. 4.