Halloween is almost here, and what better way to celebrate the holiday of horror than a freak show? That’s the musical specter that’s looming at One Longfellow Square this Friday as Caravan of Thieves steals its way into Portland for the second time this year.
Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society is a world-renowned ensemble with a moniker that honors the memories of two long-dead composers, but their spirit will suffuse a Saturday afternoon concert, hosted by Portland Ovations.
The spirit of a Maine’s foremost 19th-century composer will be present this Sunday when the Portland String Quartet gives the world premiere of a work by John Knowles Paine.
The spirit of early 20th-century small-city America will be heard when the Portland Symphony Orchestra plays a highly evocative work by Samuel Barber on Nov. 1.
Pushing creative and performance envelopes is the shtick of Caravan of Thieves, a Connecticut-based band that deftly crosses normal boundaries between genres and always adds elements of the unexpected to their dynamic live performances.
Banging on trunks and garbage cans, Caravan of Thieves channels spirits from the graveyard. Wearing an incongruous assortment of costumes, they transform musical performance into an extravagant visual-aural display.
A Caravan of Thieves concert is an experience. That makes the band especially appropriate for Halloween, and that’s what’s planned this Friday when the band returns to One Longfellow Square for the second time in 2011. And to emphasize their out-of-the-box performance style, the show is titled “Halloween Freakfest.”
Specializing in original tunes, with a smattering of covers, Caravan of Thieves is centered around a husband-wife duo of singer-songwriters who love to populate their lyrics with creepy creatures from earth and spooky visitors from beyond the boundaries of the physical universe. Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni say they draw inspiration for their songs by walking through a graveyard that’s close to their home in Bridgeport.
The Sangiovannis started as a duo, then morphed into a foursome with the addition of a violin and upright bass – plus an accordion on some occasions. The Sangiovannis share the principal vocal duties. Last year’s CD – the group’s second – was titled “Mischief Night,” which suggests their plans for Friday.
Their musical medium harks back to long-dead artists, especially the “gypsy jazz” string stylings made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli of the Hot Club de France from about 80 years ago. Their April appearance at One Longfellow Square included an arrangement of a toccata by Johann Sebastian Bach plus highly stylized covers of songs by John Lennon, Talking Heads and Queen.
It’s definitely not highly homogenized McMusic, says Fuzz Sangiovanni, and lots of others nod heads in agreement.
“If you’re weary of the heavily manufactured sounds and slick production values that dominate mainstream music today, then Caravan of Thieves promises to at least provide a satisfying alternative,” wrote Philadelphia Intelligencer reviewer Naila Francis. “These songs are soaked in a melange of influences, that while obviously steeped in gypsy swing, bear elements of everything from chamber pop and 1920s hot jazz to vaudeville, folk and bluegrass.”
Catch Caravan of Thieves at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland) at 8 p.m. Oct. 28. Call 761-1757.
Several times in the past few years I’ve hopped aboard the Amtrak Downeaster and journeyed to Boston for a concert of the city’s famed Handel and Haydn Society. But this Saturday I’ll save the rail fare; H&H is coming to Portland.
Approaching its bicentennial in 2015, H&H is the oldest continuously performing arts organization in the United States. Founded in Boston in 1815, H&H is internationally recognized for using the instruments and techniques of the composer’s time. The mission is to perform Baroque and Classical music at the highest levels and share it with a large and diverse international audience.
H&H’s Portland concert features 15 musicians, including musical director and harpsichordist Ian Watson, in a program of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Henry Purcell, William Boyce, Charles Avison and George Frideric Handel.
Portland Ovations presents the Handel and Haydn Society at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St. in Portland (on the University of Southern Maine campus). Call PortTix at 842-0800.
The Portland-Boston connection in music is also a salient feature this Sunday when the Portland String Quartet launches it 2011-2012 season with a program exclusively devoted to New England composers. Top billing goes to the world premiere of a work by a native Portland composer who later became America’s first and foremost professor of music – at Harvard University in the late 19th century.
Discovered by PSQ violist Julia Adams, John Knowles Paine’s String Quartet in D Major was written in Portland around 1855. But Adams believes that the piece was never performed. Introducing the belated world premiere will be Maine state historian Earl G. Shettleworth.
I heard excerpts from Paine’s string quartet recently during one of the PSQ’s summer concerts, and I eagerly anticipate hearing the entire work — along with the details of its discovery plus an assessment of its historical significance.
Also on Sunday’s program are pieces by Rockland native Walter Piston – who was also a distinguished Harvard professor and composer – and Charles Ives, who worked in Connecticut most of his life.
Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.
Portland Symphony Orchestra’s next program looks a bit farther south than Boston: south of the Mason Dixon Line.
The Nov. 1 concert will open with “Rusty Air in Carolina.” Penned by Mason Bates, this piece recalls the sounds of katydids and old-time blues. “Rusty Air” was written a few years ago to mark the appointment of Robert Moody as maestro of the Winston-Salem Symphony – a position he simultaneously holds with the PSO.
Perhaps the most intriguing work on the program is Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” a celebrated symphonic exposition that is set to a text by James Agee. Soprano Sarah Jane McMahon will join the PSO for this sad and evocative piece by one of America’s foremost 20th-century composers.
The largest item on the program is Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, the most popular of the orchestral works by this late 19th-century giant of the German musical tradition.
Portland Symphony Orchestra plays at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.