Out & About: Laura Kargul, Mandy Patinkin top choices

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As Columbus Day passes, so does the peak of southern Maine’s foliage season. But the arts and entertainment season remains at its peak, with excellent offerings in music and dance.

Classical pianist Laura Kargul, a longtime favorite of mine and many others, will hold her almost-annual concert this Friday at the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus, where she has been teaching for decades.

Broadway star Mandy Patinkin will visit Portland this Friday. He appears under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will open its 2013-2014 season with a pair of concerts this weekend in Lewiston and Topsham.

Halloween is not too far off, and Portland Ballet will observe the occasion with a pair of events Oct. 19 and 26. “Halloween Spooktacular” is slated for both afternoons, and evenings will have a terpsichorean interpretation of “Jack the Ripper.”

Laura Kargul

The most popular professor-performer at the University of Southern Maine School of Music will give her almost-annual public concert on the Gorham campus this Friday, but this year’s event has some significant surprises.

For more than two decades, I’ve extolled classical pianist Laura Kargul in this column, usually emphasizing that she’s especially noted for passionate performances of the 19th-century Romantic masters, particularly Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt.

This year Kargul will instead focus on the “Three B’s” of classical music: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms.

“I haven’t played Bach in public in many years,” Kargul said. “I’ve always adored Bach and it is with great joy that I return to his work. By the same token I haven’t played much Beethoven or Brahms in the recent past. I may be known more as a Liszt player, but I do have eclectic tastes, and Beethoven and Brahms are very close to my heart.”

She’ll open the concert with two selections from Bach’s seminal volume of keyboard works, “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Following that will be Beethoven’s “Waldstein Sonata,” one of the composer’s most technically challenging piano works.

“It’s a revolutionary piece,” Kargul explained. “In it, Beethoven made it a point to utilize fully the resources of the evolving piano. He broke new ground, both technically, and by exploring novel, orchestral sounds at the keyboard.”

Wrapping up the concert, Kargul will play Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Handel,” a neo-Baroque work consisting of 25 variations and a concluding fugue. Known as one of the greatest sets of variations ever written, the piece offers a broad sampling from Brahms’ vast array of compositional techniques.

“It’s not only a staggering work of art, but also one of the great show pieces of the 19th century,” Kargul said. “Brahms too was exploring new technical territory. He made truly pyrotechnical demands on the performer. From the standpoint of fireworks and dazzle, that’s all there.”

One appealing aspect of Kargul’s concerts won’t change. She likes to talk informally with her audiences, explaining in very non-technical terms what makes each piece special, its historical context, why she chose it and how she relates to it.”

I’ve attended many of Kargul’s concerts over the years, and I’ve got reservations for this Friday. Catch her in the Faculty Concert series at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

Mandy Patinkin

To describe Mandy Patinkin as a Broadway star is certainly correct. But it’s also an understatement. Although he got his start in two starring roles in big musicals on Broadway in the 1980s, for the past quarter-century Patinkin has been best known for his solo concerts. These have been performed in Broadway theaters and many other venues around the world. This Friday, Patinkin’s peregrinations bring him to Portland.

(For sake of brevity, I’m not mentioning his long, long list of movie and television credits that continue to the present.)

Patinkin is known for singing from the heart and as a masterful interpreter of the American songbook, including composers such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Adam Guettel, Randy Newman and Harry Chapin.

He’ll be accompanied on piano by longtime collaborator Paul Ford, whose Broadway credits also date back to the 1980s. Ford has worked with the singer on all his Broadway concerts, recordings and international tours.

Portland Ovations presents Mandy Patinkin and Paul Ford at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 8 p.m. Oct. 18. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

Two of Austria’s most brilliant composers, who worked a century apart, will be featured this weekend as the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra launches its 2013-2014 season with concerts in Lewiston and Topsham.

Maestro Rohan Smith has picked two very contrasting orchestral masterpieces: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”) and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (“Titan”). Each represents a different stage of their composers’ careers.

“Jupiter,” compact and constructed according to the musical rules of the late 18th century, was the last major work written by Mozart, and it was probably not performed in the composer’s lifetime. By contrast, the vast and sprawling “Titan,” which runs about an hour, was an early Mahler symphony, and its premiere was conducted by the composer, who was equally renowned as a maestro at the end of the 19th century.

Two performances are slated: Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco Center, corner of Cedar and Oxford in Lewiston, and Oct. 20 at 2:30 at the Orion Performing Arts Center (Mt. Ararat Middle School) in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

Portland Ballet

Last week I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Portland Ballet’s new studio theater. This weekend I’ll attend the company’s first production in the attractive 73-seat space that’s adjacent to the company’s longtime Forest Avenue quarters.

Actually there are two productions, each slated for two performances on consecutive Saturdays.

The afternoon show will be Portland Ballet’s annual “Halloween Spooktacular,” a light-hearted look at witches, specters and zombies. It’s intended for all ages, and children are encouraged to come in costume for the parade that will be held at intermission.

The evening performance is the antipodal opposite. Nell Shipman, Portland Ballet’s associate artistic director, has crafted a ballet based on “Jack the Ripper,” a real-life murderer who terrorized London in the late 19th century, attacking prostitutes and hacking their bodies to pieces. I’m obviously very curious as to how Shipman creates a beautiful ballet based on this gruesome story.

Here’s the schedule: “Spooktacular” at 3 p.m. Oct. 19 and 26; “Ripper” at 8 p.m. on the same dates. Portland Ballet Studio Theater is at 517 Forest Ave. Call 772-9671.

Sidebar Elements

Longtime Broadway (and “Homeland”) star Mandy Patinkin will appear this weekend at Merrill Auditorium, thanks to Portland Ovations.