Out & About: Christmas offerings dominate A&E choices

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Fridges will still be bulging with Thanksgiving leftovers when the Christmas spirit zooms in this weekend to dominate the performing arts for the next month.

First up is Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens Saturday.

“Joyous Sounds of Latin America” is a slight re-tooling of the University of Southern Maine’s annual Christmas concert. It will be performed Dec. 1 by the USM Chamber Singers in Portland.

Wynton Marsalis is probably the world’s best-known trumpet virtuoso, and his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is on tour with a Christmas show. That will happen Dec. 2, courtesy of Portland Ovations.

Not everything relates to Christmas. Mr. Sun, a four-man string band, will play in Portland on Saturday. Led by Maine fiddle legend Darol Anger, these four guys are recording a new CD.

‘The Nutcracker’

For the past 39 years, people have been flocking to Maine State Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” on the two weekends after Thanksgiving. This year will continue the tradition, and about 10,000 people will attend the biggest show in town.

“The Nutcracker” has been a popular Christmas show since it debuted in 1892 in Russia, with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and original choreography by Marius Petipa. It tells the story of a young girl who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and has a series of marvelous dreams, all delivered as exotic ballet scenes.

Forty-five professional musicians, under the direction of Karla Kelley Brenner, will play Tchaikovsky’s celebrated score. Also helping out will be singers from the Musica de Filia Girls Chorus. Hundreds of dancers, ranging from experienced professionals to six-year-old children, will cavort on stage, directed by MSB founder Linda MacArthur Miele.

As always, costumes (300 of them) and scenery are designed by Gail Csoboth. Among the most memorable items is the Christmas tree, which grows in height to about 30 feet in front of the audience in a first act scene.

Maine State Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for seven performances: 2 p.m. Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6 and 7 p.m. Nov. 28 and Dec. 4-5. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Joyous Sounds of Latin America

After 35 years directing the University of Southern Maine School of Music choral studies program, Robert Russell retired at the end of the last academic year. For the current year his replacement is Nicolas Alberto Dosman, a distinguished choral director who will lead the USM Chamber Singers’ annual Christmas concert on Dec. 1 in Portland.

Reflecting his own heritage and prior experience, Dosman has modified the popular annual program with a new theme and title: “Joyous Sounds of Latin America.”

The featured work will be “Navidad Nuestra” (“Our Christmas”) by Ariel Ramirez, a modern Argentine composer, pianist and music director. In six movements the musical drama tells the story of the Nativity, including the announcement of the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear a child, the difficult journey of the expectant parents to a humble stable at Bethlehem where the child would be born, the shepherds, the three kings, and the flight of the Holy Family to safety – all told in the expressive flavors of Hispanic culture. The singers will be joined by a rhythm section comprising guitars, bass and a variety of hand percussion instruments.

Also on the program will be “Salmo 150,” a Spanish psalm setting by Ernani Aguiar, “Uber’s Gebirg Maria Geht” by Johannes Eccard, “Adon Olam” by Kenneth Lampl, “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre, “Elijah Rock” by Moses Hogan, “Carol of the Bells” by Peter Wilhousky, “Betelmehu,” a Nigerian carol by Babatunde Olatunji (arranged by Barrington Brooks), and the perennial favorite “Silent Night” by Franz Gruber.

Catch “Joyous Sounds of Latin America” Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Williston Immanuel United Church, 156 High St. in Portland. Call the USM Music box office at 780-5555.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

With nine Grammy awards, a Pulitizer Prize and two prestigious directorships in New York, Wynton Marsalis easily ranks at the top of the jazz world. One of those directorships is at the world-famous Juilliard School, where he heads the conservatory’s jazz studies program. The other is just across West 65th Street, where he directs the Jazz at Lincoln Center program.

On Dec. 2 Marsalis will lead the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a Christmas concert at Merrill Auditorium, part of Portland Ovations’ 2015-2016 season.

Plus of course he’ll play the trumpet, which is how he got started in the music business in the late 1960s in his home city of New Orleans. Although Marsalis is primarily known for jazz, his nine Grammy Awards include two in the classical department for concertos in the standard repertoire. His 1997 Pulitizer Prize was for “Blood on the Fields,” which also won a Grammy.

The current Christmas-themed tour is heavily oriented toward vocals, and Marsalis is bringing two outstanding singers along. Densal Sinclaire is a Canadian with a velvety baritone voice that is often compared to Nat King Cole. For four consecutive years Sinclaire was named Best Male Jazz Vocalist by Jazz Report, a Canadian magazine.

Audrey Shakir is the other. In Marsalis’ words: “Audrey Shakir is one of the greatest bebop singers in the world today, a talent with a thrilling voice, sure to send elation through the audience.”

Portland Ovations presents Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Cal PortTix at 842-0800.

Mr. Sun

There’s a new bluegrass band in town. Sort of. Its name is Mr. Sun, and it comprises four virtuoso musicians whose collective goal is to advance the traditional bluegrass/string band genre into new realms via fusions with classical, jazz and other musical idioms.

Two are very well known on the national bluegrass scene. Fiddler Darol Anger is an innovator who was a pioneer in the “newgrass” movement from its inception. Ditto mandolinist Joe K. Walsh, who spent years with the Gibson Brothers and now teaches at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Both are also well known to Maine audiences through a number of projects.

Joining them will be Grant Gordy on guitar and Ethan Jodziewicz on bass. Mr. Sun intends to take a relaxed approach to writing its own chapter in the American music saga via a CD that’s currently being recorded, “The People Need Light.”

Catch Mr. Sun Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis will lead his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a Christmas-themed program Dec. 2 at Merrill Auditorium, courtesy of Portland Ovations.