Out & About: Hats off to the King of Swing

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There’s quite a wide range of very interesting music available this weekend and the coming week in a territory that spans Portland to Brunswick.

The interesting music starts Friday at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, where Henry Lebedinsky will play an all-Russian program on the clavichord, one of the modern piano’s predecessors.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra switches to Pops mode this Saturday and Sunday with “A Benny Goodman Tribute” that features clarinet virtuoso Dave Bennett as the guest soloist and the orchestra led by guest conductor Teresa Cheung.

There’s an All-Star lineup at One Longfellow Square on Feb. 29 as five prominent members of local string bands combine into one “super group” in a fundraiser for Portland’s topnotch nonprofit arts presenter.

Henry Lebedinsky

Scholarly lecture or crowd-pleasing clavichord concert? That’s an obvious question posed by this Friday’s appearance of Henry Lebedinsky in a free public performance hosted by the Bowdoin College music department in Brunswick.

The answer is a bit of both.

Let’s start with the scholar-performer in his own words: “I am a historical keyboardist and composer living in Minnesota, and am currently serving as interim director of music at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul. For the past 18 years, I have played continuo with numerous orchestras and early-music ensembles and have given solo recitals on clavichord, harpsichord, and organ across the U.S. and United Kingdom.

“I studied historical performance at Bowdoin College and the Longy School of Music, where I was a student of Peter Sykes. My major research areas are 17th-century Italian nun composers and 18th-century Russian keyboard music, and I have led master classes on early-music performance and rhetorical playing at Davidson College, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Appalachian State University.

“My publications of music by Isabella Leonarda, Maria Peruchona, and Barbara Strozzi have been performed across the globe, most recently in Lebanon, France, and South Korea.”

The clavichord is the oldest form of keyboard instrument. It flourished from the 15th through early 19th centuries and was one of the predecessors of the modern piano. Lebedinsky’s Friday program is titled “The Birth of Russian Keyboard Music.” Musical selections will feature several obscure Russian composers of the late 18th and early 19th centuries who preceded the more famous Russian Romantics of the mid-19th and 20th centuries. In addition to playing pieces by these composers, Lebedinsky will also explain their historical importance – in layman’s terminology.

The program is slated for Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-3375.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Eight decades ago, American clarinetist Benny Goodman was widely hailed as “The King of Swing,” leading his eponymous orchestra to a series of top-selling records and world tours. His name and his exquisitely smooth sound – characterized by melodic inventiveness and technical excellence – epitomize the Big Band style that dominated American popular music for a generation.

In the past five years an exquisitely talented clarinetist from the Detroit area has re-created Goodman’s style in a tribute act that has been appearing with symphony orchestras around the U.S. Dave Bennett, 28, has been widely hailed as the “next best thing” to the King of Swing himself. These comments have been made by people who ought to know, such as Bill Hyland, trustee of the Benny Goodman estate.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra has engaged this young man to headline its February 25-26 Pops program. Bennett be accompanied by a coterie of his own musicians – a pianist, bassist, drummer, guitarist and female vocalist – plus of course the musicians of the PSO. The arrangements for symphony orchestra were created by Paul Keller, who is best known for his work with jazz singer Diana Krall.

The PSO will be led by guest conductor Teresa Cheung. Not to be confused with the actress of the same name, Cheung is the maestro of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra in Pennsylvania, the American Symphony Orchestra in New York and the Bard College Orchestra in New York. Cheung is equally adept at the classical core of the symphony orchestra as well as pops programs, where she is in much demand as a guest conductor.

Bennett is certainly a hero in his home town. Kendra Whitlock, director of pops and special programs for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, is among Bennett’s boosters. “Dave’s Goodman Symphony Pops show is absolutely spectacular,” she said. “Dave Bennett wowed the audience and brought the house down.”

Michael Krajewski, a conductor who leads symphonic pops programs in Texas, Florida and New Hampshire, adds his ringing endorsement: “Clarinetist Dave Bennett’s extraordinary re-creation of the sound and artistry of Benny Goodman brings the Swing Era back to life in all its splendor.”

This weekend’s program of Goodman favorites includes most of the biggest and best-remembered hit tunes: “Let’s Dance,” “Bugle Call Rag,” “Why Don’t You Do Right,” “These Foolish Things,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Slipped Disc,” “And the Angels Sing,” “Blues in the Night,” “Goody Goody” and “Sing Sing Sing.”

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “A Benny Goodman Tribute” this weekend at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. There are two performances: Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 26 at 2:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Leap for Longfellow!

The 29th day of February is often celebrated in special ways, and One Longfellow Square, Portland’s top small venue for singer-songwriters and roots musicians, is celebrating Leap Day with an All-Star String Band, a quintet drawn from local acts which have played the venue in the past.

Leap for Longfellow! is also a fundraiser for One Longfellow, which became a nonprofit organization last year. All the musicians will be donating their time and talent.

Here’s the lineup: Mandolinist Joe Walsh plays with the Gibson Brothers and Crow Molly, fiddler Darol Anger plays with Yulegrass and Republic of Strings, fiddler Brittany Haas plays with Crooked Still and Republic of Strings, guitarist Courtney Hartman plays with Della Mae, and bassist Amanda Kowalski also plays with Della Mae.

I’ve been attending One Longfellow Square events for years, and deeply appreciate the fact that this venue brings in national touring acts – primarily singer-songwriters and small ensembles specializing in roots and Americana – and strongly supports local musicians or all stripes, ranging from bluegrass to classical.

This benefit concert is slated for One Longfellow Square (corner of State and Congress in Portland) at 8 p.m. Feb. 29. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Dave Bennett is a clarinet virtuoso who travels around the country performing “A Benny Goodman Tribute” on pops programs with symphony orchestras. He’ll be the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s guest on Saturday and Sunday.