Out & About: Maia Sharp, Big Sandy top the bill

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May arrives this week with a plethora of sunshine and flowers, plus an equal bounty of arts and entertainment.

A superb singer-songwriter and a leading Americana-rockabilly band are two of the top offerings at Portland’s One Longfellow Square. First up is singer-songwriter Maia Sharp. Then it’s Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, a four-man Americana band.

Three of southern Maine’s largest music producers and presenters are currently wrapping up their classical seasons. The biggest item is Portland Symphony Orchestra’s finale, two performances of a program devoted to one work by Gustav Mahler, a classical composer who foreshadowed the modern era.

The final classical offering on Portland Ovations’ 2012-1013 calendar is Imani Winds, a fivesome whose program focuses on modern works.

The University of Southern Maine School of Music is wrapping up its spring semester, and professor Bruce Fithian is wrapping up his longtime teaching gig there. Recognizing this milestone, Fithian Fest, a public celebration, happens in Gorham.

Maia Sharp

It’s not schizophrenia, but there are two sides to singer-songwriter Maia Sharp. Within the music biz, she’s known as tunesmith and lyricist who boasts a platinum list of performers: artists such as Cher, Bonnie Raitt, Dixie Chicks, Tricia Yearwood and Art Garfunkel.

Less known, unfortunately, is her considerable skill as performer of her own material. Maybe that’s starting to change, as Sharp returns from on a national concert tour as Raitt’s opening act. Mainers can learn firsthand about Sharp’s vocal and interpretive abilities when she appears in concert this Friday at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

Sharp will be promoting her newest album, “Change the Ending.” The first cut on the CD was released as a single: “Me After You,” is a driving, tuneful take on the emotional cost of a romantic breakup that greatly impressed me when I attended her OLS concert last July.

Catch Maia Sharp at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress streets, at 8 p.m. May 3. Call 767-1757

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys

One of our country’s most successful Americana bands will be visiting One Longfellow Square on May 9.

As explained by Allmusic critic Craig Harris: “Authenticity is the key to the music of Rockabilly Hall of Fame members Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. Although they’ve moved from their rockabilly roots to a sound that encompasses folk, bluegrass, Western swing, Cajun, and mariachi influences, the … band continues to be faithful to the music of the past.”

Inspired by the rockabilly revival of the 1980s, the group’s eponymous leader found success writing and performing in the genre with various bandmates in southern California. The Fly-Rite Boys (initially two of them) began in 1988, and in various permutations of up to six they’ve been performing with Big Sandy ever since. They’ve recorded nine CDs, the most recent being 2006’s “Turntable Matinee.”

The opening act will be King Memphis, the Port City’s own rockabilly favorites.

Catch this great double bill at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. May 9. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Last week, the Portland Symphony Orchestra ended its season of Pops concerts. This Sunday and Tuesday, it’s goodbye to 2012-1013 as the PSO makes its seasonal exit with two performances of a program featuring one major work.

Maestro Robert Moody has selected Gustav Mahler’s passionate Symphony No. 5. PSO program annotator Mark Rohr notes that this late 19th-century work is almost as well known as Symphony No. 5 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

“The ominous trumpet call that opens the symphony is one of the most memorable moments in Western music, every bit as distinctive as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth,” explains Rohr. “The funeral march that follows is a relentless tragedy, harrowing and inconsolable. The faster middle section is even more anguished.”

By contrast, the work’s finale is relentlessly cheerful, and Rohr comments that “Mahler’s music could express the depths of despair and the exhilaration of joy, often simultaneously.”

The performance will be dedicated to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings in a gesture of musical sympathy by Moody, an avid runner himself.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s final two concerts of the season at 2:30 p.m. May 5 and 7:30 p.m. May 7 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Imani Winds

Portland Ovations wraps up its classical offerings for 2012-2013 with North America’s premier wind quintet. Imani Winds is one of the most successful chamber music ensembles in the U.S. The ensemble has received many awards including the 2007 ASCAP Award, the 2002 CMA/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming and a Grammy nomination.

The fivesome’s innovative programs and commitment to commissioning new works are evident in their Portland Ovations debut, which will include Carlos Franzetti’s “Serenata” and Jason Moran’s “Cane.” Noting the limited repertoire for wind quintet, Imani has also been active in commissioning transcriptions and adaptations of classical favorites written for other instruments and ensembles. These include Henri Tomasi’s “Cinq Danses,” Claude Debussy’s “Bruyere” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”

Catch Imani Winds at 7:30 p.m. May 2 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Fithian Fest at USM

For the past three decades, Bruce Fithian has been at the center of southern Maine’s musical life in a variety of roles: organist, pianist, vocalist, choir director, composer, impresario and professor. This spring he’s retiring after 29 years at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, and a very public retirement party is planned this Saturday on USM’s Gorham campus.

They’re calling it “Fithian Fest,” and the evening of free music will include some of his compositions, a performance by several of the church choirs that he leads plus a few of his former students who have succeeded in opera, concert and musical theatre. Current USM students and colleagues will also take part, headed by professor Robert Russell directing the school’s Chamber Choir. St. Mary’s Schola, an early music consort that Fithian leads, will also perform.

“The excitement in this program is generated as we showcase many of the myriad talents that Bruce has developed throughout his professional life,” says Russell, a longtime colleague. “Bruce is a consummate musician, a beautiful interpreter of early music, and a colleague of the highest integrity. I have been privileged to know him and to make music with him.”

Catch this free concert at 8 p.m. May 4 at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call 780-5555.

Sidebar Elements

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, a top Americana-rockabilly band, will appear May 9 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.