Out & About: Classical piano, classically inspired jazz

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Portland Ovations, which has been presenting stellar touring acts since 1931, is hosting two of the most intriguing concerts on southern Maine’s performing arts calendar this weekend.

First up is this Saturday, when French-Canadian classical pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin performs an eclectic program at an unusual afternoon concert.

The next day Portland Ovations hosts The Bad Plus, a modern jazz trio, performing a “deconstruction” of one of the 20th century’s classical musical landmarks: Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” It’s the second, and most adventurous, of Portland Ovations’ four-part centennial celebration of the work.

Jonathan Edwards, the “Sunshine” boy from southern Maine, returns to One Longfellow Square for a midwinter concert.

Marc-Andre Hamelin

A Canadian-born classical piano virtuoso who lives in Boston will be performing a varied program of mostly 20th-century works this Saturday in Portland. His afternoon concert in Merrill Auditorium, presented by Portland Ovations, was originally scheduled for Feb. 9.

In a professional career that spans more than a quarter-century, Marc-Andre Hamelin has earned a reputation for championing and recording the works of many lesser-known composers as well as specializing in late 19th-century Romanticism. He’s also known as a composer in his own right, mostly writing solo pieces for the piano.

A graduate of Montreal’s prestigious Ecole Musique Vincent-d’Indy and Philadelphia’s Temple University, Hamelin has performed around the world, including an annual European tour. He has released more than two dozen records and CDs, mostly on the Hyperion label.

International honors include the Virginia Parker Prize, Carnegie Hall International Competition for American Music and the Juno (Canada’s Grammy) for Best Classical Album. He’s also collected nine Grammy nominations.

Saturday’s program will feature Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata plus works by Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel and Hamelin himself. A series of three pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, perhaps the 20th century’s most popular Romantic composer for the piano, will conclude the concert.

Portland Ovations presents Marc-Andre Hamelin at 3 p.m. Feb. 16 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

The Bad Plus

Portland Ovations is marking the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s pioneering ballet, “Rite of Spring,” with four programs during its 2012-2013 season. The culmination will be a March 21 performance of the full “Rite of Spring” by the Joffrey Ballet. Leading up to that are three variations and take-offs that focus on different aspects of Stravinsky’s masterpiece.

The most adventurous variation is slated for this Sunday when The Bad Plus, an avant-garde jazz trio, performs a “deconstruction” of the work, reinterpreting Stravinsky’s celebrated score via a radically different idiom.

Originating in Minneapolis, pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson and percussionist Dave King have been performing together as The Bad Plus since 1989. The trio specializes in breaking down the walls of convention that separate the jazz, rock, country, classical and electronic genres.

Fueled by a deep appreciation of improvisation, the trio has long been praised for affixing its own signature to compositions of others. A prime example is “On Sacred Ground,” which is based on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” With a video synchronized to the trio’s live performance, “On Sacred Ground” becomes a multimedia event.

Portland Ovations presents The Bad Plus’ “On Sacred Ground” at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Jonathan Edwards

Another artist who got started in Minnesota is Jonathan Edwards, a singer-songwriter who burst onto the national scene in 1971 with a breezy, upbeat and uplifting tune titled “Sunshine,” which sold more than a million copies and is still a staple of Triple-A radio. “Sunshine” launched Edwards’ career, which continues to the present.

After leaving Minnesota, Edwards has lived mostly in New England, including Massachusetts, New Hampshire and (currently) Maine.

Since “Sunshine,” Edwards has released 14 albums and he has collaborated on recordings and television shows with artists such as Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Cheryl Wheeler. One Edwards album, “Little Hands,” was cited by the National Library Association as a notable children’s recording. He has also scored two movie soundtracks, “The Mouse” and “The Golden Boys.”

Theatrical gigs included playing the leading male role in a national touring production of the Broadway musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

Jonathan Edwards appears at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland) at 8 p.m. Feb. 15. Call 761-1757.

Behind the scenes

Over the past few years, the biggest story on Portland’s arts and entertainment scene has been the emergence of One Longfellow Square as southern Maine’s premier small music room and the venue of choice for folk singers, singer-songwriters, roots-oriented musicians, jazz and Americana.

Geographically speaking, One Longfellow Square is the bedrock western anchor of the Congress Street Arts District. It’s the major performing arts venue in a quarter-mile stretch that also includes two other busy spots: Port City Blue and Local Sprouts.

Seating about 200 in a very intimate concert setting, One Longfellow Square began about a decade ago as the Center for Cultural Exchange. Cabaret seating is occasionally used and sometimes the main floor is cleared for dancing. Light refreshments are available for all shows.

One Longfellow Square’s claim to preeminence was solidified about a year ago when it converted to a nonprofit organization, allowing it to solicit memberships and grants. The goal was to free itself from the strict dictates of box-office receipts.

Four months ago, OLS announced that Kippy Rudy would become the first full-time executive director of the nonprofit. A resident of Bath, Rudy was selected after a thorough national search conducted last summer. She was picked on the strength of her 20-plus years of experience in fund-raising and non-profit arts management in Maine.

Rudy has held key positions at several major Portland arts institutions including general manager at PORTopera, marketing and development director at Portland Stage, and director of corporate and foundation relations at the Portland Museum of Art.

I’ve had several chats with Rudy during her first four months on the job, and I’m impressed by her knowledge of the Maine arts community and her understanding that business acumen is needed if OLS is to remain among Portland’s top performing arts venues.

She’s off to a good start. Since October I’ve noticed that OLS shows sell out much more frequently and much earlier. Don’t count on being able to walk in without tickets and get in.

“My goal is simple,” she told me recently. “One Longfellow Square must become self-sustaining. My objective is for us to be here in 10 years.”

Sidebar Elements

French classical pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin will perform an eclectic program Saturday afternoon, Feb. 16, under the aegis of Portland Ovations.