Out & About: Handel & Haydn Society to visit Portland

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America’s oldest continuously performing arts organization is coming to perform in Portland. Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, founded five years before Maine gained statehood, will visit this Saturday, hosted by Portland Ovations.

The Lantz-Kargul duo isn’t quite that ancient, but it’s rapidly becoming part of the cultural fabric of Maine. This Sunday violinist Ron Lantz and pianist Laura Kargul will once again team up to play a program of passionate Romantic music in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.

On Valentine’s Day itself, the DaPonte String Quartet goes all-electric, with a program that defies easy categorization played on instruments made in Maine.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra is going for seconds this Sunday and Tuesday. On maestro Robert Moody’s program, which gets two performances, are two famous second symphonies, one by by Ludwig van Beethoven and the other by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Handel & Haydn Society

It was March of 1815. The U.S. had won the War of 1812 the month before, and the Province of Maine was still part of Massachusetts. And America was poised for an unprecedented era of geographic expansion, economic prosperity and cultural flowering.

In a few years, Boston would tout itself as the “Hub of the Universe.”

One reason? On March 24, 1815 a group of prominent Bostonians established the Handel & Haydn Society, an ensemble of voices and instrumentalists dedicated to the promotion of fine music, as exemplified by two of Europe’s premier composers: Englishman George Frideric Handel and Austrian Franz Joseph Haydn.

H&H is still going strong, recognized as our country’s oldest continuously performing musical ensemble, and it remains at the forefront of Boston’s vibrant classical music community. Nowadays H&H specializes in “early music,” roughly defined as Renaissance and Baroque. I’m a huge fan of early music, and several times in the past few years I’ve hopped aboard Amtrak’s Downeaster to attend an H&H concert. They’re the best of their ilk.

This Saturday afternoon, I can travel one whole mile to hear H&H in concert, thanks to Portland Ovations.

Fifteen H&H instrumentalists will visit Portland with a program comprising masterpieces of the Italian Baroque. Two major composers are featured with two works apiece. Antonio Vivaldi, who was also a Catholic priest, worked mostly in Venice, where he was music director of a famous finishing school for girls. He is primarily known for instrumental works for mid-sized string ensembles. Vivaldi was highly successful in his own time and he remains popular to the present.

Pietro Antonio Locatelli spent much of his life in Holland, where he too was enormously successful both as composer and violinist. But unlike Vivaldi, Locatelli is little known today, and his music is mostly played by highly specialized ensembles such as H&H.

Portland Ovations presents the Handel & Haydn Society at 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Center for Community Education, 88 Bedford St., on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Lantz-Kargul duo

Rapidly becoming a Valentine’s tradition in greater Portland, the duo of Ronald Lantz and Laura Kargul will return Sunday with a program intriguingly titled “Victorian Passions.”

Lantz, a violinist with the Portland String Quartet, and Kargul, the longtime director of piano studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, make a wonderful duo, blending instrumental virtuosity with their rare talent for spirited verbal interpretation for audiences. Kargul explains the underlying rationale for this program.

“The Victorian period was extremely straitlaced,” she comments. “One of the few accepted ways of expressing heightened, passionate emotions publicly was through the arts. Music, as the most abstract art form, was the ideal vehicle. Composers were able to say, through music, what polite society would not allow to be said.”

Three works are on the program. The opener is Clara Schumann’s Romance No. 3 for Violin and Piano. The remainder includes two of the most beloved works for that fairly common instrumental combination: Johannes Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 and Cesar Franck’s Sonata in A Major. Both have been audience-pleasers since they were first performed.

Catch “Victorian Passions” at 2 p.m. Feb. 12 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet is going all-electric on its Valentine’s Day concert in Portland. And the Midcoast-based DSQ is featuring the craftsmanship of a Midcoast resident. Their instruments were made – and donated to them – by Ned Steinberger, a Nobleboro resident who has made a name for himself in this rather recondite field.

Like the electric guitar – so ubiquitous in rock music – Steinberger’s violins, violas and cellos are constructed from solid blocks of wood. All the sound that the audience hears comes from miniature microphones placed underneath the strings, then amplified and projected through loudspeakers.

Why electric? Although DSQ’s exotic, jazzed-up electric sound might discomfit many classical music lovers in conventional concert settings, it works exceptionally well for special situations. This Valentine’s Day concert is one example. The program includes music by Astor Piazzolla, the 20th-century Argentinean “master of the tango,” and Leonard Cohen, the late Canadian singer-songwriter who is best known for “Hallelujah.” Another Cohen song, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” will be performed.

Catch the DaPonte String Quartet at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland. Call 529-4555.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Two is the magic number for the next program on the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s schedule. For starters, maestro Robert Moody’s program will be performed twice, on Sunday and Tuesday.

More intriguingly, Moody has selected a pair of second symphonies by famous composers. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2, written in 1802, was revolutionary in its time and offended many listeners, but today it is recognized as a masterpiece. No. 2 will be performed as part of Moody’s three-year project of presenting all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 was written about a century after Beethoven’s No. 2, and it marked the composer’s first success in that large-scale format. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr uses a palette of adjectives to describe this milestone work, including, “energetic,” “athletic,” “humorous,” “high-octane” and “brilliant.”

Moody’s two choices also mark (approximately) the temporal bookends of the major symphonies of the Romantic Era, with Beethoven’s representing the beginning of the period and Rachmaninoff’s signaling the conclusion.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Handel & Haydn Society, organized in Boston in 1815, will visit Portland this Saturday, playing a program that focuses on the Baroque period in Italy.

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