Out & About: Kotzschmar Organ to accompany pioneering sci-fi film

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“Metropolis” is an epic, pioneering science fiction film that set the standard for the nascent genre when it was first released in 1927.

As part of its ongoing performance series, the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ will present a screening of the landmark silent film this Sunday in Portland, with an original accompaniment by Peter Krasinski.

St. Mary Schola’s next concert series features “Dixit Dominus,” an early, rarely performed work by George Frideric Handel. Three performances are coming up, beginning in March 8 in Portland.

Maine composer Dan Sonenberg got some wonderful news a couple of weeks ago. His opera, “The Summer King,” which premiered in a concert version two years ago in Portland, will get a fully staged production by a major company in 2017.

‘Metropolis’

A dystopian vision and a familiar plot device provide the dramatic horsepower behind a pioneering science fiction movie from the silent film era. “Metropolis” debuted in 1927, directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang, and has long been regarded as one of the defining works of the sci-fi genre.

As part of its ongoing silent film series, the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ will screen “Metropolis” this Sunday, accompanied by Peter Krasinski, who specializes in this type of work.

Epic in scope and breathtaking in vision, “Metropolis” boasted the biggest production budget of its era, with a large cast, huge sets and elaborate costumes. Set in a futuristic dystopia, the city in question is sharply divided between a powerful ruling elite and a vast mass of downtrodden workers. The plot employs a familiar device: A man from one faction falls in love with a woman from the other.

Peter Krasinski is a globetrotting organist who lives in Boston, and has played the Mighty Kotzschmar many times. He specializes in improvisational silent film accompaniments, and looks forward to tackling “Metropolis.” He explains that he composes accompaniments to emphasize the themes of each film.

“My goal is to convey this ‘central line’ as though I were narrating each film while at the same time becoming integrated with the presentation,” he commented.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ present “Metropolis” at 3 p.m. March 6 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

St. Mary Schola

An early, rarely performed work by George Frideric Handel will be the featured item on St. Mary Schola’s upcoming concert series.

Handel, an 18th-century composer who spent most of his creative life in London, is almost a household name. His “Messiah” is frequently performed in its entirety, and a single section, the “Hallelujah Chorus,” is one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever written.

Although Handel wrote many works for voice and orchestra, few others are known beyond the circle of aficionados of the Baroque period. “Dixit Dominus” is one of the most obscure. Composed about 1707, when Handel was 22, it is his earliest signed score and was first performed five years before he moved to London.

“Dixit Dominus” is a nine-part setting for the Latin text of Psalm 110, scored for five voices and chorus plus a small string orchestra. It is one of Handel’s most thrilling works, full of pulsating rhythms and a remarkable range of expression that ranges from heart-rending arias to intense choruses.

St. Mary Schola is southern Maine’s most active early music ensemble. Comprising about 20 singers and instrumentalists, it is directed by Bruce Fithian, a professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. The ensemble is completely independent, and is based at St. Mary’s Church in Falmouth.

“Dixit Dominus” fills the second half of the upcoming concerts. The first half will include a variety of a cappella Renaissance and Baroque works, plus one piece composed by Fithian himself.

Three performances are slated: March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 Congress St. in Portland; March 11 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Cathedral Church, 143 State St. in Portland; and March 13 at 4 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, 43 Foreside Road in Falmouth. Visit stmaryschola.org.

‘The Summer King’

On Feb. 13, when Pittsburgh Opera formally announced that Maine composer Daniel Sonenberg’s “The Summer King” would be produced as a centerpiece of its 2016-2017 season, no one was more pleased than Aimee Petrin, executive director of Portland Ovations.

Although Sonenberg, a professor of composition at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, had been working on “The Summer King” for almost a decade – long before he came to Maine – it was Petrin who gave the project a much-needed final push, resulting in a concert version in May, 2014, concluding Portland Ovations’ season.

“The Summer King” is the bittersweet story of baseball star Josh Gibson, the Negro Leagues’ top slugger in the 1930s and 1940s. The biggest star of his era – known as the “Black Babe Ruth” – Gibson died before baseball became racially integrated in 1947. The story follows his on-field stardom, as well as his star-crossed romances and broken promises by baseball’s ruling barons. Gibson played much of his career with the Pittsburgh Crawfords, so the Steel City is a logical place to stage “The Summer King.”

I was among those present at the 2014 concert premiere. I loved it and fervently hoped that a fully staged production would someday follow.

I chatted with Petrin about “The Summer King” last weekend. Although producing is far outside Portland Ovations’ modus operandi, Petrin’s prior background included acting as principal on many occasions. Some years ago, when she learned that Sonenberg had been working on an opera about Gibson, she sought him out and committed her organization to producing the concert premiere.

Collaborating with Brooklyn-based American Opera Projects, National Endowment for the Arts, Bob Crewe Foundation, Maine Arts Commission and the University of Southern Maine, Portland Ovations helped raise $75,000, which went mostly to hiring an international cast and small professional orchestra.

Sonenberg received much feedback from the performance and some positive criticism. He plans to make extensive revisions to the libretto and music. Petrin plans to attend the Pittsburgh premiere.

“This is the greatest thing possible for this opera and for Dan,” she told me. “To have it fully staged by a nationally known company is beyond thrilling.”

Petrin added that the 2017 Pittsburgh production underscores the vitality of Maine’s cultural community. “We like the attention it brings to a Maine composer and how it extends Maine’s artistic legacy,” she said.

Organist Peter Krasinski will accompany the screening of “Metropolis,” the 1927 landmark silent film science fiction epic, this Sunday, March 6, as part of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ performance series.

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