Out & About: Laura Kargul’s 25th anniversary concert

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For classical music lovers like myself, one of the first dates that gets circled on calendars every autumn is Laura Kargul’s solo piano recital at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. This Friday’s concert is extra special, marking her 25th year at the school. Known as an interpreter of the 19th-century Romantic literature, she’s picked a program of personal favorites.

DaPonte String Quartet launches its 2014-2015 season this weekend with a program that looks at the enduring influence of Ludwig van Beethoven, classical music’s most famous composer.

The mystery of Jack the Ripper continues to fascinate people more than a century after his string of hideous murders. Last year Portland Ballet crafted a terpsichorean take on this gruesome story that wowed audiences. This year it’s been refined and expanded. Four performances of “Jack the Ripper” are slated over the next two weekends.

On Monday in Portland, a “Bluegrass Spectacular” is a benefit for WMPG Community Radio, a nonprofit station that serves southern Maine. Three local bluegrass bands will appear.

Laura Kargul

Since 1989, Laura Kargul has directed the piano program at the University of Southern Maine School of Music and performed each fall in its Faculty Concert Series. I’ve attended at least half of these concerts, and I’ve already reserved my tickets for this Friday’s, which will mark Kargul’s 25th anniversary at USM.

I am one of many who consider Kargul’s annual fall performance to be one of the high points of Maine’s cultural calendar.

With a long history of bookings in the U.S., Europe and Asia, Kargul is known as a preeminent interpreter of 19th-century Romantic composers. For her 25th, she’s chosen a program of personal favorite works. Before intermission, she will perform several works by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms that are seldom heard today.

The second half will feature the Sonata in B Minor by Franz Liszt, which has always been an audience favorite.

“It is widely thought to be Liszt’s greatest work in any genre, and it has never fallen out of favor with performers and audiences,” Kargul said. “It’s a pyrotechnical virtuoso showpiece, to be sure, but one constructed so artfully that its position as an epic masterwork has never been disputed. Many people consider it to be the greatest solo piano work of the 19th century, and, in my opinion, it is certainly one of the most exciting and dramatic pieces ever written for piano.”

Catch Laura Kargul in concert at 8 p.m. Oct. 17 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

DaPonte String Quartet

Ludwig van Beethoven is the biggest name in classical music history, a giant who casts a metaphorical shadow over every composer who came after him. That’s the central premise of the DaPonte String Quartet’s first program of its 2014-2015 subscription concert series.

The DaPontes have been a Maine resident ensemble since 1992, performing about 50 times per year all over the state. “Walking in Beethoven’s Shadow” will include works by three 19th-century European composers who followed Beethoven: Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn.

Brahms famously stated in an oft-quoted letter, “You have no idea how it feels to constantly hear the footsteps of a giant like Beethoven behind you.” Musicologists believe that Brahms’ String Quartet No. 1 in C, the centerpiece of this weekend’s concerts, represented simultaneously the composer’s acknowledgement of the greatness of his predecessor as well as an attempt to break free from his overpowering influence.

Schumann’s journals detail how carefully he studied Beethoven’s string quartets before composing his own. Mendelssohn claimed that he was personally affected by Beethoven’s quartets, averring that they had helped him through a difficult period as a teenager.

Three performances of “Walking in Beethoven’s Shadow” are scheduled this weekend: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 in Damariscotta at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St.; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 in Portland at the Public Library, 5 Monument Square, and 3 p.m. Oct. 19 in Topsham at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St. Call 529-4555.

‘Jack the Ripper’

There’s no end to the morbid fascination with Jack the Ripper, the fictional name for the a real-life murderer who terrified London in the late 19th century, attacking prostitutes and hacking their bodies to pieces. The mystery of Jack’s identity remains unsolved, but there’s been endless investigation and speculation.

On the forensic front, a couple of months ago a scientist claimed to have identified Jack by using newly discovered DNA evidence.

At Portland Ballet, there’s a new approach to telling the story. Nell Shipman, the company’s associate artistic director, has crafted a ballet based on the general facts of the gruesome murders, but told in strictly terpsichorean terms. When Shipman’s “Jack the Ripper” debuted shortly before Halloween last fall, I was very curious as to how she would approach the story.

I was among the sold-out audiences who discovered that Shipman’s artistic attack is far more metaphorical than macabre, and I was thoroughly fascinated by her new creation. Building on last year’s success, and with the help of a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, Shipman has tweaked her work this year, substantially lengthening the piece and adding detail and intrigue.

Catch “Jack the Ripper” at Portland Ballet’s studio theater at 517 Forest Ave. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 17, 18, 24 and 25. Call 772-9671.

WMPG Bluegrass Spectacular

There’s an odd disconnect in Maine’s cultural life: Bluegrass music is very popular when performed live at summer festivals, but on Maine radio, bluegrass doesn’t really exist.

But there’s a notable exception to this unfortunate generalization. WMPG Community Radio, the non-profit broadcast voice that’s connected to the University of Southern Maine, features regular bluegrass programming in multiple formats, including recorded music, interviews with local musicians and live in-studio performances.

This Monday, a bunch of those artists will appear live in WMPG’s Bluegrass Spectacular, a night of music and celebration in Portland that’s aimed at raising money to support the station’s programming. Three bands are scheduled, each a fixture of southern Maine’s bluegrass scene: Tumbling Bones, Jerks of Grass and The Grassholes.

Host for the evening will be Ceci Gilson, a local roots music aficionado who hosts the station’s Thursday morning “Kitchen Party.” WMPG’s Bluegrass Spectacular is slated for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 20 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Laura Kargul has been teaching piano and giving concerts at the University of Southern Maine School of Music for 25 years. Her Faculty Concert Series performance Friday, Oct. 17, is one of the hottest tickets in town.