Out & About: ‘Footlight Follies,’ Irish flutist, classical festival

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A few days before Maine State Music Theatre opens its last show of 2015, the company will present its final “dark night” production of the season. “Footlight Follies” is a variety show in the vaudeville tradition that features the troupe’s professional actors and performing interns, plus invited artists in genres not often seen in the company’s productions.

Irish flutist Matt Molloy, who normally performs with the Chieftains, will hold forth with two other musical friends this Sunday at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

As noted in last week’s “Out & About,” two of Maine’s biggest classical music festivals wrap up early this month, but the last one of 2015 is about to start. The Portland Chamber Music Festival opens its 22nd season on Aug. 13.

‘Footlight Follies’

Top-tier professional theater companies normally operate on a six-day schedule, performing Tuesday through Sunday and leaving Monday “dark.” But the lights won’t dim at Maine State Music Theatre on Aug. 10; the troupe will merely shift gears from “Young Frankenstein” to a one-night show titled “Footlight Follies.”

It’s a new annual fund-raiser, started during Curt Dale Clark’s first season as artistic director. I attended last year and was thoroughly entertained and charmed by its format and content.

“Footlight Follies” begins outside the theater with seven alfresco venues sporting a variety of acts. This year’s include a barbershop quartet, a bluegrass band, a miniature circus and a group that sings sea shanties. All the while, MSMT interns roam the grounds dressed to the nines in some of the company’s most glamorous and exotic costumes, singing occasionally, chatting with visitors and posing for pictures.

(It’s worth noting here that MSMT’s costume shop is nationally known, and its rental division sends its creations to professional theater companies all over North America.)

Then the show moves indoors, where a variety of skits and musical numbers will be performed on the main stage. Hosts and leading performers are Charis Leos, MSMT’s resident comedienne, and Jeremiah James, who plays the title role in “Young Frankenstein.” Schooner Fare, Maine’s celebrated folk act, will perform a set. Add a few more acts plus some jugglers and clowns and that wraps up “Footlight Follies.”

Catch this one-night event at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.

Matt Molloy and friends

Irish flutist Matt Molloy won major competitions as a teen, and had his own band in the 1970s. But since 1979, Molly is best known for playing with the Chieftains, the Emerald Isle’s famed exponents of traditional musical styles. Nowadays he lives in Connecticut (and also runs a pub there).

When not touring with the Chieftains, Molloy likes to collaborate with other musical friends. This Sunday Molloy will join with two fellow Irishmen: fiddler John Carty and guitarist Arty McGlynn for an evening at One Longfellow Square.

Carty honed his talents in the Irish music scene in London in the 1960s and 1970s. He has released three solo fiddle albums and participated in countless collaborations on recordings by others. In 2003 he won an Irish TV station’s Traditional Entertainer of the Year award (Molloy was a prior winner).

McGlynn has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has released one solo album and participated in many others, being especially noted for three recordings with pop musician Van Morrison.

Catch these three at 8 p.m. Aug. 9 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

For many years Portland’s classical music aficionados had to venture outside the city each summer. Maine had many summertime classical festivals and events, but all were located in seacoast or lakeside vacation meccas. That out-of-town situation changed in 1994 when the Portland Chamber Music Festival was started, co-founded by Jennifer Elowitch, a violin virtuoso and scion of the city’s well-known artistic family.

PCMF has grown enormously in numbers and national stature over the past two-plus decades, but it retains its original four-concert, two weekend format. I’ve been among the festival’s most avid followers, attending since the first concert of the first year and I’ve already reserved my tickets for 2015. This year’s dates are Aug. 13-22.

The festival has a number of strengths, beginning with its roster of artists, numbering about 20 each season. Elowitch herself is a noted performer and pedagogue in greater Boston, where she plays with numerous ensembles, ranging from the august Boston Symphony to eclectic new music groups. She formerly taught at the Longy School in Cambridge, and the New England Conservatory in Boston. Currently she’s music director of a prestigious arts academy in suburban Natick.

Without question the highest profile artist for 2015 is Frank Huang, the Chinese-born first violinist with the Ying Quartet. Huang was recently appointed to one of the classical world’s most prestigious gigs: concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.

Pianist Max Levinson has soloed with orchestras around North America. He currently teaches at the New England Conservatory and was recently named director of the piano department at the Boston Conservatory.

Art music written by living composers has been one of Elowitch’s longstanding passions, and every festival includes at least a couple of works. This year’s edition has four — one scheduled on each concert. And for the first time ever, she’s bringing in all of the composers to introduce their works. The schedule includes Alan Fletcher on Aug. 13, David Crumb on Aug. 15, Osvaldo Golijov on Aug. 20 and Dan Visconti on Aug. 22.

Born in Argentina, trained in Israel and steeped in eastern European Jewish musical traditions, Golijov is the best known of the four composers. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and currently holds a named professorship at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Golijov’s works have been featured on PCMF concerts from the get-go.

The Aug. 20 concert will feature a co-production of Golijov’s “Ayre,” a large-format chamber work for soprano and 12 instrumentalists that weaves together Sephardic, Arabic and Spanish traditions, transcending borders and cultural boundaries. Grammy-nominated clarinetist Todd Palmer, a noted Golijov advocate and collaborator, will play in this concert. Like Golijov, Palmer has been coming to PCMF for two decades.

Portland Chamber Music Concerts are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 15, 20 and 22 at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 320-0257 or visit pcmf.org.

Sidebar Elements

Violin virtuoso Jennifer Elowitch is the artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, which opens its 22nd season on Aug. 13.