Out & About: Emanuel Ax to play Portland

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Among the most anticipated events on Portland Ovations’ 2016-2017 calendar, piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax tops the list for many, including myself. Truly one of the world’s best and most-honored classical musicians, Ax will play in Portland this Saturday.

Portland Ovations has another fine concert coming up. The Gloaming, described as an “Irish-American supergroup,” takes the stage at the State Theatre on April 20.

Maine jazz lovers have plenty to get jazzed about over the next few weeks. This week let’s take a brief look at three events of note. This Friday, Dimensions in Jazz, a program of the Portland Conservatory of Music, hosts an album debut concert featuring clarinetist Mike McGinnis.

Maine’s young jazz artists get to strut their stuff in a pair of concerts connected to the University of Southern Maine School of Music. The school’s vocal jazz ensembles will sing out on April 18 in Gorham, while the Portland Jazz Orchestra will host musicians from Westbrook High School on April 20.

Emanuel Ax

One of the world’s most celebrated pianists is coming to Portland this Saturday afternoon. Emanuel Ax, who was born in Russia, lives in New York City and concertizes around the world, has an interesting Maine connection that’s not known to many.

Back when he was a teenager, Ax spent a summer in Brunswick at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, where he was regarded as a very promising student and one of the Juilliard School’s rising stars. But an unforeseen accident gave him the opportunity to show his stuff to a wider public. When the scheduled artist in one of the festival’s showcase concerts broke his hand in a bicycle accident, Ax stepped as a last-minute substitute – to rave reviews.

Since then he’s enjoyed a phenomenal career both as a solo artist and in collaboration with others, especially cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Ax boasts seven Grammy Awards in his trophy case, two of them for solo recordings and the other five for collaborations with Ma.

For this Saturday’s program, Ax will appear solo. His program might be termed “impromptu.” The first half will include four impromptus by Franz Schubert and another four by Frederic Chopin. The only modern composer on Saturday’s program is John Adams. Ax will play Adams’ Impromptu No. 2, subtitled “After Schubert.”

The concert will conclude with one of Chopin’s comparatively rare big solo works, his four-movement Piano Sonata No. 3, which is considered to be among the his most technically challenging pieces.

Portland Ovations presents Emanuel Ax at 3 p.m. April 15 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

The Gloaming

Artists with very successful solo careers who band together for a special project are often called a “supergroup.” That’s exactly what’s taking the State Theatre stage on April 20, when Portland Ovations presents The Gloaming as part of its world music series.

The Gloaming is an Irish-American collaboration created by five musicians. The best known locally are fiddler Martin Hayes, who is the supergroup’s central figure, and guitarist Dennis Cahill, a frequent collaborator with Hayes. The two appear together about once a year in Portland.

The Gloaming sounds ancient without being a mere reproduction. Although charged by the traditions of Ireland, what these five men do with the structures of Irish music is anything but simple nostalgia. Their music is informed by the history of the Emerald Isle, old and new, but they introduce deep wells of personality and experience. The music is played with the technical authority of virtuosos, and the result is haunting and emotionally charged.

Portland Ovations presents The Gloaming at 8 p.m. April 20 at the State Theatre, 609 Congress St. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Dimensions in Jazz

Dimensions in Jazz, a production of the Portland Conservatory of Music, creates a multi-faceted platform for live performances. Curated by longtime jazz impresario Paul Lichter, the series brings a variety of nationally renowned artists to Portland.

This Friday’s concert will celebrate the release of a new CD by clarinetist-saxophonist Mike McGinnis and two collaborators. The title of the CD is “Recurring Dream,” and McGinnis’ two sidemen are veteran bassist Steve Swallow and Grammy Award-nominated pianist Art Lande.

The album, featuring mostly original compositions, was recorded in Brooklyn, New York, and released a couple of weeks ago. McGinnis, Swallow and Lande are currently on tour promoting it.

“McGinnis is a bold musician who takes on challenges and grabs ambition by the scruff of the neck,” writes Down Beat magazine critic Ken Micalleff. “He follows roads less traveled, but the journey is totally satisfying.”

Catch the “Recurring Dream” CD release concert at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. at 8 p.m. April 14. Call 775-3356.

USM Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Taylor O’Donnell is a professional singer with a long resume, which includes teaching gigs at both Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine School of Music. At the latter, she supervises a number of students, both music majors and others whose interest is more casual.

Every spring, with the end of the semester in sight, music students give a variety of performances as part of their course evaluations.

The USM Vocal Jazz Ensemble gives a public concert on April 18, performing intricate arrangements of jazz standards as well as pieces written specifically for vocal jazz ensembles. Per the ensemble’s custom, the performance will include improvised vocal solos.

Catch the USM Vocal Jazz Ensemble at 7:30 p.m. April 18 at Corthell Concert Hall on the Gorham campus. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.

Portland Jazz Orchestra

Chris Oberholtzer is professor of music and director of jazz studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. He’s also the director of the Portland Jazz Orchestra, the region’s premier big band ensemble.

Among Oberholtzer’s USM duties is recruiting our state’s top high school jazz artists. As part of this effort, he occasionally invites local school jazz bands to play with his own fully professional 18-piece ensemble, several of whom are also USM jazz profs.

On April 20, the PJO will make its regular monthly appearance. As special guests, Oberholtzer has invited the entire jazz ensemble at Westbrook High School to share the stage.

I’ve been a regular at PJO concerts for some time, and I’m always impressed by the quality of the high school guests who are invited. Emerging talent is always fun to watch.

This month’s concert is slated for 8 p.m. April 20 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Internationally renowned piano virtuoso Emanuel Ax will visit Portland for an April 15 concert, hosted by Portland Ovations.

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