Out & About: From classical to classic rock

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Now that we’re entering the first week of autumn, several of southern Maine’s premier arts producers are opening their fall-winter-spring seasons.

The biggest upcoming show will be the Portland Symphony Orchestra, presenting a pair of Pops! concerts titled “Classic Rock.”

Another classic pops act is Maria Muldaur, who’ll appear at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre on Friday. She’s best known for “Midnight at the Oasis,” a quirky and seductive song that was a huge hit in 1973, but she’s got a far larger repertoire.

Also on Friday, the University of Southern Maine School of Music offers a classical program titled “Masterpieces of the Sonata Repertory,” featuring violin virtuoso Rob Lehmann and piano prof Anastasia Antonacos.

Portland String Quartet opens its 48th season on Sunday with a concert that features a work that was commissioned by the the foursome.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The team that created the biggest box office success in the history of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s long-running Pops! program is back.

Two years ago, “Piano Men” was created by Joe Boucher and Christopher Eastburn, and it sold out two dates at Merrill Auditorium. The concept behind “Piano Men” was simple: Boucher played piano and sang a selection of songs by Elton John and Billy Joel, while Eastburn arranged the music for rock band and full symphony orchestra. Eastburn also played in the band.

“Piano Men” has played in several cities with other symphony orchestras, plus it was the top ticket-seller at Deertrees Theatre this past summer.

Boucher and Eastburn have created a follow-up that will open the PSO’s 2016-2017 season this Saturday and Sunday. Titled “Classic Rock,” the program comprises a compilation of great songs from the rock idiom from the past four decades, including selections from Kansas, Boston, Stevie Nicks, KISS, Meat Loaf, Pat Benetar and Bonnie Tyler.

Boucher and Eastburn have enlisted additional musical forces. Vocal horsepower and variety will be added by two new singers. Susie Pepper is a former Maine Idol winner and Miss Maine 2009. She fronts her own jazz ensemble and has appeared with the PSO in its “Magic of Christmas” programs. John Martinez fronts Riot Act, a four-man rock group that plays mostly in southern Maine.

The PSO will of course be conducted by Robert Moody, who is entering is final full season at the helm.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “Classic Rock” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 24 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 25. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Maria Muldaur

Having a big hit is the dream of every young singer. But sometimes a hit can also come with a problem that lasts a lifetime.

That’s the case with Maria Muldaur, who has been an interpreter of American roots music for about half a century. Her experience and repertory are vast, embracing folk, blues, jazz and rock. That’s what’s in store when Muldaur visits Vinegar Hill Music Theatre this Friday.

But most people know Muldaur for one 1973 mega-hit: “Midnight at the Oasis.” It was a quirky, seductive, saucy, playful song that sold millions of copies and remains a staple of radio airplay.

But “Midnight” also obscures Muldaur’s lifetime of accomplishments in many genres of Americana with many collaborators. Among the more recent of these is “Heart of Mine,” a CD of love songs by Bob Dylan. Let music critic Lee Hildebrand, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, explain:

“Maria Muldaur and Bob Dylan were contemporaries on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit in the early ‘60s. Now living in Marin County, Muldaur emerges as a sublimely original interpreter of a dozen Dylan tunes on ‘Heart of Mine.’ With fewer fissures in her raspy contralto than Dylan has in his weather-worn tenor, she finds melodic contours in such numbers as ‘Buckets of Rain’ and ‘Make You Feel My Love’ that were never before so apparent.”

Catch Maria Muldaur at 8 p.m. Sept. 23 at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) in Arundel. Call 985-5552.

USM School of Music

Two dark masterpieces of the sonata genre bookend the program for this Friday’s Faculty Concert at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. The faculty artists are violin virtuoso Rob Lehmann, who heads the strings department and conducts the school’s orchestra, and Anastasia Antonacos, who is both piano prof and alum.

Their program includes one piece from the Classical period and two from the 20th century. Opening will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor, which was written in response to the death of the composer’s mother.

The concluding piece will be Sergei Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 1, which was written during World War II. Lehmann describes it as “one his darkest, most powerfully moving and brooding works.”

Catch “Masterpieces of the Sonata Repertory” at 8 p.m. Sept. 23 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call 780-5555.

Portland String Quartet

Forty-seven years ago the Portland String Quartet formed and began concertizing all around Maine and the world, playing a combination of established classical works plus a few contemporary compositions. Some of the latter were commissioned by the PSQ. One of those, which premiered 18 years ago, will be reprised when the PSQ opens its 2016-2017 season this Sunday.

The piece combines poetry and music, and is based on the work of Kathe Kollwitz, a German visual artist who is best known for depicting the effects of poverty, hunger, sickness and war on the working class, particularly women and children. Five of Kollwitz’s woodcuts were interpreted by American poet Muriel Rukeyser.

The piece that will be featured Sunday is a musical setting of Rukeyser’s five poems, titled “Kathe Kollwitz.” The composer is Tom Myron, who served as the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s resident composer and arranger from 1992 until 2004. Myron composed “Kathe Kollwitz” on commission from PSQ violist Julia Adams to commemorate the quartet’s 30th anniversary.

Joining the PSQ in this dramatic work will be soprano Luette Saul, who teaches voice at Bates College and at her Portland studio. Saul earned degrees from San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of Southern Maine. She is active as a recitalist, and soloist, giving concerts throughout Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Sunday’s concert will open with Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade” and conclude with Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 5.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Sept. 25 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

Maria Muldaur, famous for her 1973 quirky and seductive hit, “Midnight at the Oasis,” will appear this Friday at the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre.