Out & About: Kargul-Lantz duo in romantic concert

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Friday is Valentine’s Day, and a pair of Maine’s top classical musicians have a very intriguing concert planned for the date. Pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ron Lantz will present a concert titled “To Clara, With Love,” which explores the passionate relationship between three of the 19th century’s top composers and performers.

Portland Symphony Orchestra plans a pair of Pops concerts this weekend. Eschewing love in favor of swashbuckling swordsmanship, the program is built around “The Mark of Zorro,” a silent film classic of the 1920s starring Douglas Fairbanks.

Johnny A., one of New England’s top blues guitarists, will visit Portland’s One Longfellow Square with his band on Saturday. He’s such a consummate player that Gibson Guitars named one of its models after him.

Laura Kargul and Ron Lantz

Music historians have long been fascinated by the relationship between three of the leading lights of the 19th century. Robert Schumann was a foremost composer of the German Romantic movement, while wife Clara was one of Europe’s top concert pianists as well as a composer in her own right. Johannes Brahms was another top German composer.

All three saw each other often and were mutual admirers of each other’s artistry. But was there anything more going on?

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to explore that question and enjoy the music of these three. That’s the logic behind “To Clara, With Love,” a program that will be presented this Feb. 14 at the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

Performers will be pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ron Lantz, who have been professionally (but not romantically) linked since 2010. Kargul is the head of keyboard studies at USM, where she specializes in teaching and performing the Romantic composers. Kargul’s international standing is so high that she is one of only a handful of pianists who have been permitted to play the piano that once belonged to Franz Liszt.

Lantz has performed in 30-plus countries, mostly as a founding member of the Portland String Quartet. He also maintains an active teaching studio in Portland.

As a duo, Lantz and Kargul have become well known to audiences in southern Maine for their passionate interpretations of Romantic music. Kargul is also famous for her very witty extemporaneous remarks that she intersperses throughout her concerts.

“This program is drawn from the most overtly emotional period in the history of music,” Kargul said. “The practice of expressing profound feelings through music reached its pinnacle in mid-to-late 19th-century Germany. These three composers spoke straight from their hearts whenever they put notes on paper.”

The evening will begin with the smoldering opening phrases of the Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor by Robert Schumann, followed by Clara Schumann’s exquisitely poetic “Three Romances for Violin and Piano.” The pair will close the program with Brahms’ sweetly lyrical Violin Sonata No. 2, written while he was vacationing in the Swiss Alps.

Lantz and Kargul also will take time throughout the evening to explore the complex emotions that inspired these composers by reading from their personal letters.

“This could get interesting,” Kargul added.

“The highly charged and intriguing relationships between these three artists has been fodder for research and speculation for over a century,” Lantz said. “Since no one will ever have all the answers, we’ll have to let their music tell the story.”

Catch the Kargul-Lantz duo in “To Clara, With Love,” at 8 p.m. Feb. 14 at Corthell Hall at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call 780-5555.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

In the golden age of silent movies, “The Mark of Zorro” was one of the top box office favorites, a stirring hero-action drama that revolved around a California nobleman with a double identity during the late 18th century period of Spanish rule.

In his day-to-day persona, Don Diego was an effete, foppish dandy, inept with his sword and a strikeout with the ladies.

In his other identity, “Zorro,” Don Diego was a dashing masked hero whose flashing sword defended the poor and the helpless against their myriad enemies. Plus he was a magnet for women.

The 1920 film version of “The Mark of Zorro” starred Douglas Fairbanks as the namesake hero; it has become one of the best-loved classic films of the era.

For its February Pops program, Portland Symphony Orchestra will accompany a screening of “The Mark of Zorro” on Saturday and Sunday. Music for the concert was written by Rick Friend, a noted pianist who specializes in musical compositions for silent films. Friend has performed his arrangements for “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Nosferatu” and others with orchestras around the country. This weekend will be his first with the PSO. Assistant conductor Norman Huynh will be on the podium. Recently hired, Huynh (pronounced “when”) also heads up the PSO’s youth programs.

This weekend’s Pops concerts mark the first time the PSO has accompanied a silent film. The full orchestral accompaniment will provide an superb experience, reminiscent of the early 20th century, when musicians were featured at screenings of silent films to emphasize the action and feelings of the story.

Catch two performances of “The Mark of Zorro” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Johnny A.

“Guitar god” is an overused term, but how can one argue the honorific when a major guitar manufacturer names one of its models for the person in question?

That’s the situation with Johnny A., a veteran blues guitarist and veteran of the Boston club scene, and former Portland resident. Gibson Guitars, one of the biggest instrument makers in the world, recently introduced its Johnny A. Signature, a hollow-bodied long-necked electric model.

Johnny A. and his band meld jazz, blues and rock, simultaneously emphasizing melody and fiery instrumental wizardry in a repertoire that combines well-known covers and self-penned tunes.

Johnny A. won Boston Music Awards’ Blues Musician of the Year in 2010 and has been nominated several other times in this category. On Saturday he will be playing songs from his latest CD, “One November Night.” Plus listeners can expect selections from “Driven,” a CD that’s slated for release next month. “Driven” boasts 10 original songs plus one cover, and it is being mastered in Portland by multiple Grammy Award-winning studio engineer Bob Ludwig.

Catch Johnny A. and his band at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

The classical duo of pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ron Lantz will present an intriguing program of romantic music for Valentine’s Day in Gorham.