Out & About: Driftwood plus Beatles plus Bach+

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It’s shaping up as a very musical weekend, with two big shows and more set for Feb. 24-26.

The biggest item on the calendar will be the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landmark release of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” It’s scheduled for two performances, Saturday and Sunday.

Bach+ is a concert by the Oratorio Chorale Chamber Choir, joined by musicians from St. Mary Schola. Three performances are slated for Saturday and Sunday in Falmouth and Brunswick.

Driftwood is a rootsy Americana band from upstate New York that blends a punk rock attitude with bluegrass instrumentation. This foursome takes the stage in Portland on Friday.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

In the late 1960s the Beatles were the dominant force in pop music, both wildly popular and critically acclaimed.

One of the reasons for this dual distinction was the Fab Four’s ability to innovate and surprise. An exemplar was “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” an album released in 1967 that spent 15 weeks at the top of the charts and ultimately sold 32 million copies. It won four Grammy Awards, including Best Album, and Rolling Stone ranked it No. 1 in its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” It is still fondly remembered by many, including myself.

This weekend the Portland Symphony Orchestra will morph into Pops! mode with a program that honors the album’s 50th anniversary.

Guest conductor Jeffrey Reed will lead the PSO plus eight guest artists – all rock musicians. Reed’s plan is to perform the entire album in the first half of the concert; some of the individual songs include “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Fixing a Hole” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

Following intermission, Reed and company will tackle a representative sampling of late Beatles tunes, including “Penny Lane,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Long and Winding Road” and “Here Comes the Sun.”

Reed’s main gig is music director of Orchestra Kentucky, but he is far better known for the pops programs that he leads as guest conductor around the U.S. His last visit to Portland was 13 months ago, when he stepped up to the podium for a PSO concert based on the Beach Boys’ milestone “Pet Sounds” album. I attended that concert, and loved every minute of it.

Two performances are scheduled for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 26. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Bach+

Emily Isaacson has served as artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale since 2013, and in 2016 she took on a new and very prominent role in Maine’s musical community: co-founder and associate artistic director of the Portland Bach Festival.

This weekend Isaacson is combining those two roles, leading the Oratorio Chorale Chamber Choir (a smaller sub-unit) plus three guest artists in a program titled Bach+. Three performances are slated for Falmouth and Brunswick.

Johann Sebastian Bach is considered to be the foremost composer of the Baroque Era, a subcategory of “early music” that roughly covers the first half of the 18th century.

Schutz is considered to be the most important of Bach’s predecessors in Germany; he worked in the middle of the 17th century.

The guest artists are members of St. Mary Schola, a Falmouth-based early music ensemble: Bruce Fithian, who will provide continuo accompaniment, with Philip Carlsen playing cello and Timothy Burris on lute.

Two works are on Isaacson’s program: Heinrich Schutz’s “Musikalische Exequien” and Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude.”

Isaacson believes that her program relates to today’s listeners.

“When it feels as if society is in chaos, how do you find solace?” she asks. “For some the answer is music.

“During a devastating period in European history, when communities were destroyed by the Thirty Years War, the Plague, or both, Prince Heinrich von Reuss turned to music for clarity, comfort and hope. He commissioned his friend, the composer Heinrich Schutz, to compose funeral music for his own, inevitable death.

“Nearly a century later, J.S. Bach would build upon Schutz’s ideas to explore personal grief. At the age of 10 Bach became an orphan, and by his mid-30s he had lost his wife and three young children. In ‘Jesu Meine Freude,’ Bach explores emotions from his own experiences with death.

“But this music is not mournful; rather, it is celebratory. It is hard for us today to fathom the meaning of death for Christians of that era. Death was a reward, for death meant peace. ‘Musikalische Exequien’ and ‘Jesu Meine Freude’ celebrate life, faith, community and the human capacity for joy.”

Oratorio Chorale presents Bach+ at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 43 Foreside Road in Falmouth, and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Feb. 26 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.

Driftwood

“Americana” is a musical adjective that’s rather vague – intentionally so. The term was invented to cover a vast spectrum of styles related to traditional American music – styles that sometimes seem to conflict.

That’s the story of Driftwood, a foursome from Binghamton, New York, who have been playing together since 2005. Their instrumentation is typical bluegrass: guitar, banjo, fiddle and standup bass. But Driftwood’s approach to songwriting and presentation sets the group apart.

Driftwood’s three men and one woman like to blur and blend genre lines in order to innovate. They play old-time instruments, but they do so with a punk rock ethos. You can experience this innovative style when Driftwood appears in Portland this Friday.

Describing Driftwood’s approach, banjo player Joe Kollar explains, “I consider our sound to be more of an attitude and an approach, the result of all of our influences in a completely open musical forum where the only stipulation is to use bluegrass instruments and create it from the heart.”

Three months ago, Driftwood released its latest CD, “City Lights.” Reviewing for Elmore Magazine, Jim Hynes further elaborated:

“The fiddles, banjos and acoustic guitar usually mean bluegrass, but this band makes that sound much more interesting as they approach it with a punk-rock attitude that embraces country and rock ‘n’ roll. Their harmonies bring rushes of excitement to these songs, and it’s clear that Driftwood plays with exultant joy that is undeniably rooted in their aggressive touring schedule.”

Catch Driftwood at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Oratorio Chorale Chamber Choir presents a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach plus Heinrich Schutz this Saturday and Sunday in Falmouth and Brunswick.

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