Out & About: Jeffrey Kahane to star at piano, podium in Portland

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With 5 p.m. darkness now the rule, the southern Maine arts community is hunkering in for a long fall-winter-spring season. Most performers, producers and presenters have already launched their 2018-2019 seasons, and many are now on their second offerings.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will offer its second concert in the Tuesday Classical series on Nov. 13, marked by a starring role for guest maestro Jeffrey Kahane, who is known as both a virtuoso pianist as well as a conductor. He’ll assume both roles.

The Oratorio Chorale plans two performances of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Vespers of the Blessed Virgin,” in Portland on Saturday and Brunswick on Sunday. Guests will include instrumentalists from Boston’s Blue Heron Ensemble, recent winners of a prestigious award.

VentiCordi will be the featured ensemble on Sunday, filling the second calendar slot in the Portland String Quartet’s 2018-2019 schedule.

Portland Chamber Music Festival has an off-season concert of present-day, cutting edge compositions on Nov. 15. It will be the first program under new artistic director Melissa Reardon.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Jeffrey Kahane has a double-barreled reputation, and both of them are stellar. For starters, he’s known as a virtuoso pianist, recognized by the top prize in the 1983 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Competition. Secondly he’s recognized as the longtime maestro of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, where he collected three awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for Adventurous Programming.

Both sides of Kahane’s musical prowess will be exhibited Nov. 13, when he leads the Portland Symphony Orchestra for the second time in the 2018-2019 season.

The opening work of the program will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17, with Kahane conducting from the keyboard of the big Steinway. This 1784 concerto is a highly regarded composition that inspired this comment from PSO trombonist Mark Rohr, who has written the orchestra’s program notes for decades:

“This is one of those Mozart works where words fail utterly in conveying the amazing variety of moods and the deftness with which Mozart slips between them. Far beyond the outward simplicity of the work there lies an emotional sophistication, a depth of meaning so subtle in its shadings that we enter that realm where words leave off and music begins.”

Rohr concluded: “This is why people listen to Mozart.”

For the second half of the program, Kahane will take the usual podium position, baton in hand, and lead the orchestra in Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, characterized as a starkly dark musical portrait of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, who vied with Adolf Hitler for the title of most murderous politician of all time. The composer had suffered under Stalin, and No. 10 has been interpreted as Shostakovich’s artistic revenge, written shortly after the dictator’s death in 1953.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Oratorio Chorale

Claudio Monteverdi, an Italian composer of the 16th and 17th centuries, almost disappeared from the musical radar about a hundred years ago. Then his works were re-discovered, re-published and recorded by numerous early music ensembles, and his reputation has been firmly re-established as one of the most influential voices of the period between the Renaissance and the Baroque.

But not all of his works have been equally recognized. Among the least often performed is Monteverdi’s “Vespers of the Blessed Virgin,” a 1610 composition for voices and small orchestra that is based on a number of Biblical texts.

This weekend the Oratorio Chorale, under the direction of Emily Isaacson, will perform the “Vespers” twice, in Portland and Brunswick. In recent years Isaacson has established a reputation as an advocate and expert on the subject of early music, inaugurating the Portland Bach Experience earlier this year.

The 30 or so voices of the Oratorio Chorale will be joined by a small orchestra of Boston musicians who comprise the Blue Heron Ensemble, a group that has copped Gramophone’s Early Music Award – a North American first.

Six vocal soloists will be led by mezzo-soprano Virginia Warnken, a graduate of Yale University’s early music program and a founding member of Roomful of Teeth, a Grammy Award-winning alternative classical ensemble.

Two performances are slated: 7 p.m. Nov. 10 at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland, and 3 p.m. Nov. 11 at Saint John the Baptist Church, 39 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call 577-3931.

VentiCordi

Some of the most interesting and eclectic programming of any musical ensemble in Maine comes from violinist Dean Stein and oboist Kathleen McNerney, who go by the professional moniker of VentiCordi.

The made-up name means winds-strings, and because there’s very little traditional literature written for this unconventional instrumental pairing, Stein and McNerney compensate in two ways. First they invite a slew of professional colleagues to perform with them, and second, they find new works and sometimes commission them.

That’s the formula this Sunday, when VentiCordi performs five pieces that range in style from Baroque to contemporary.

Guests include pianist Chiharu Naruse, flutist Antonina Styczen, cellist Ashima Scripp and violist Julia Adams. The latter plus Stein comprise half of the Portland String Quartet.

The most notable work on the program was commissioned by Stein and McNerney from Bill Matthews, longtime professor of music at Bates College in Lewiston. The piece is titled “Three Duos for VentiCordi,” and will be introduced by the composer himself.

Catch VentiCordi at 2 p.m. Nov. 11 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Visit VentiCordi.com.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

Another commissioned piece will be heard Nov. 15 when the Portland Chamber Music Festival presents one of its off-season programs that explores the relationship between music and cultural and national identity.

Expect an evening of contemporary chamber music, as PCMF’s new artistic director, Grammy-nominated violist Melissa Reardon, will be joined by fellow violist Ayane Kozasa, cellist Raman Ramakrishnan and cellist/composer Paul Wiancko.

The title of the program is “Searching for Home.” All four musicians are children of immigrants, with parents from Japan (Kozasa and Wiancko), India (Ramakrishnan) and the Philippines (Reardon).

The centerpiece of the evening will be the world premiere of a newly commissioned work by Wiancko, inspired by Isamu Noguchi, subject of the featured fall exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art.

Catch “Searching for Home” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St. in downtown Portland. Call 800-320-0257.

Jeffrey Kahane is equally well known as a piano virtuoso and conductor. He’ll play both roles on Nov. 13 as guest maestro of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

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