Out & About: Concerts span a spectrum of genres

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For the second straight week a variety of concerts take top billing on southern Maine’s performing arts calendar. This weekend’s offerings span a spectrum that embraces classical, jazz, beatnik and blues.

In terms of attendance, the biggest numbers will be tallied by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, which continues its Sunday Classical series with a concert that features major pieces by a two prominent 20th-century composers: Jean Sibelius and Sergei Prokofiev.

Dimensions in Jazz, a long-running series of the Portland Conservatory of Music, continues this Friday with the Jarrett Cherner Trio, hailing from Brooklyn, New York.

Portland’s best small music room, One Longfellow Square, has a pair of fine concerts. On Friday it’s Aztec Two-Step, a longstanding duo who were inspired by the Beat Generation.

Then on Saturday, the venue hosts Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, a longstanding and outstanding blues act.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The weather has turned colder and the ski resorts have started to make snow, so it’s appropriate that the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s next concert features two major works by composers from countries that are known for frigid winter climates: Finland and Russia.

Both composers are also major figures of early 20th-century music. Jean Sibelius is considered Finland’s finest classical composer, whose seven symphonies were instrumental in developing his country’s cultural identity during a period when it struggled to gain political independence from Russia. The PSO will perform Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, a three-movement work dating from 1915. The composer’s technique was quite novel at the time; most of his lush themes are assembled from smaller elements and displayed and developed in fragments before being presented to the listener in full.

Sergei Prokofiev is one of a handful of great 20th-century Russian composers. His Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra, dating from 1917, displays a variety of styles and is noted for the technical demands placed on the soloist. For the solo honors, PSO maestro Robert Moody has selected violin virtuoso Benjamin Beilman, a 26-year-old American prodigy who has already earned an impressive list of prizes, grants and gigs with major orchestras.

And speaking of Moody, at this past weekend’s Pops! concert, I chatted with PSO Executive Director Carolyn Nishon, who reported that the search for a maestro is going well. She’s received more than 240 applications from men and women all over the world. Right now the search committee is winnowing those down to a half-dozen or fewer who will be invited to conduct during the 2017-2018 season. That announcement is expected this spring. Nishon hopes that Moody’s successor will be named before his final concert in spring of 2018.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 20 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Jarrett Cherner Trio

A New York-based jazz ensemble will be playing Friday night in Portland. The Jarrett Cherner Trio from Brooklyn will be holding forth at the Portland Conservatory of Music as part of the long-running Dimensions in Jazz series, which is curated by Paul Lichter.

Originally from the West Coast, Cherner is a pianist-composer who has been playing professionally for more than a decade. His own original works are characterized by flowing melodic lines, plus he plays a number of covers, especially honoring jazzmen of the classic bebop era.

The trio comprises the eponymous pianist plus drummer Jason Burger and bassist Martin Nevin. Last month they released a new CD, a mix of originals and covers titled “Expanding Heart.” I’ve listened to a few cuts and reserved my tickets.

Catch the Jarrett Cherner Trio at 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. Call Dimensions in Jazz at 828-1310.

Aztec Two-Step

A young musician who grew up in the Kennebec Valley met a young musician from New York City one night at a folk club in Boston and teamed up to form one of the most enduring duos in American musical history.

The Mainer is Rex Fowler and the New Yorker is Neal Shulman. They met in 1971 at an open mic, their creative juices flowed and a few weeks later they debuted their new act, Aztec Two-Step. A couple of months later, Elektra Records offered them a contract, which resulted in a self-titled album – the first of 15 to date. Fowler and Shulman are still together, and visit Maine at least once a year.

Among their defining characteristics, Aztec Two-Step has always been inspired by the Beat Generation. The curious moniker, for example, is taken from a line in a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a beat poet. Perhaps their most famous song concerns Dean Moriarty, a principal character of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” – the defining novel of the Beat Generation.

“On the Road” also describes the long career of this iconic folk-rock singer-songwriter duo. Now based in New York, Aztec Two-Step has been touring the world – especially college campuses, coffee shops, folk festivals and intimate music rooms – for 45 years. This Friday the road leads to downtown Portland and the city’s best intimate music room, One Longfellow Square.

Their sixth album, “Living in America,” was released 30 years ago. It won the New York Music Award for Best Folk Album. For this Friday’s concert, Aztec Two-Step will perform most of the songs from that milestone collection.

Catch Aztec Two-Step at 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters

Another product of the Boston music scene will play One Longfellow Square the following night. Ronnie Earl, whose long career as a blues guitarist and bandleader began when he attended a Muddy Waters concert in Boston, will visit Portland with his ensemble of the past 28 years, the Broadcasters.

Earl has copped the Blues Music Awards top honor for Best Guitarist three times, most recently in 2014. He teaches guitar at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Several of his bandmates are also connected to the school. Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters have released an astounding 25 albums in their time together. And Earl himself has guested on another 40 albums that were led by others.

The band’s specialty is instrumental virtuosity; they consistently draw big crowds on their periodic visits to Portland.

Catch Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters at 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Aztec Two-Step is Rex Fowler, left, and Neal Shulman. Drawing inspiration from the Beat Generation, the two have been performing together since 1971.

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