Out & About: Midcoast Symphony debuts new piano concerto

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Southern Maine’s arts and entertainment calendar boasts a variety of interesting offerings this weekend.

The most significant happens in Lewiston and Topsham this Saturday and Sunday, as the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra wraps up its 25th season with the world premiere of a specially commissioned concerto written by a prominent Maine composer.

The DaPonte String Quartet opens the final concert series of its 2014-2015 season this weekend in Portland.

Heather Maloney is a singer-songwriter from Massachusetts whose new indie album, “Making Me Break,” is making waves in the music world. She’s playing in Portland this Saturday.

The 14th annual Maine Playwrights Festival continues daily through this weekend, with the culminating event on Sunday.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

For 25 years the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra has been a growing part of Maine’s cultural life. My personal connection began about a dozen years ago, when the MSO’s search for a new music director attracted some considerable attention.

Rohan Smith, an Australian-born conductor, was chosen to lead the ensemble, and I’ve been a frequent concert-goer ever since. During his tenure, Smith plus a dedicated team from this all-volunteer community ensemble has recruited more musicians, improved performance standards, tackled more challenging repertoire and generally elevated the MSO’s status in Maine’s cultural community.

This 25th anniversary season will conclude with two performances of a program titled “Growing Into the Future,” and the featured item will mark another significant milestone in the MSO’s growth: the world premiere of a specially commissioned orchestral work by a prominent Maine composer.

After opening with Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festival Overture,” the MSO will perform Vineet Shende’s Piano Concerto, with George Lopez as the guest soloist. Both are familiar figures in Brunswick.

Shende is an internationally recognized composer who serves as chairman of the Bowdoin College music department. In addition to teaching a wide variety of music courses, he’s a guitarist and singer. Shende’s music is highly eclectic, ranging from novel combinations of voices plus small instrumental ensembles to full-scale symphonic works. Lopez is an artist-in-residence at the college, and a frequent collaborator with Smith.

Does outer space and interplanetary travel represent the future? Maestro Smith seems to be saying yes with his selection of the final work on the program: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” This immensely approachable orchestra suite was written a century ago in England; its principal themes were inspired by the astrological associations of the seven planets – all that were known at that time.

Two performances are slated: May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco Center, 46 Cedar St. in Lewiston, and May 17 at 2:30 p.m. at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

DaPonte String Quartet

Music lovers have a chance to sample a hugely diverse range of short works by seven very different composers as the DaPonte String Quartet wraps up its fall-winter-spring season with five performances of a program titled “Short and Sweet.”

On the menu are works by composers from six countries, four continents and three centuries. They include “Quartettsatz” by the classical Austrian composer Franz Schubert, “Crisantemi” by the Italian opera maestro Giacomo Puccini, “Concertino” by Russian master Igor Stravinsky, “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf (born in what is now Slovenia), “Funf Satze” by 20th-century Austrian composer Anton Webern, “Lullaby” by the beloved American composer George Gershwin, and “Four for Tango” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.

“This is really a veritable smorgasbord,” says violist Kirsten Monke. “In a short amount of time, this program covers wildly differing styles and moods. It’s like reading short stories by great novelists: Each of these little jewels captures the essence of what makes each of these composers great.”

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 16 at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square; 3 p.m. May 17 at St. John’s Church, 200 Main St. in Thomaston; 7:30 p.m. May 22 at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St. in Damariscotta; 7:30 p.m. May 23 at St. Columba’s Church, 32 Emery Lane in Boothbay Harbor; and 3 p.m. at Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St. in Topsham. Call 529-4555.

Heather Maloney

After years of struggling to discover the true nature of the artist within herself, Heather Maloney seems to have finally decided what she is: a powerful singer-songwriter who is beginning to make waves on the national music scene.

A native of New Jersey, Maloney studied for years to be a professional opera singer, but she surrendered to the twin muses of poetry and songwriting during meditation one day in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. Now based out of the those mountains, Maloney motors around this country singing and further honing her craft. She’s coming to Portland this Saturday.

After listening to numerous selections from her releases to date, I’m very impressed with Maloney’s performance and writing. She seems equally at home backed by her own band or performing solo with guitar. She’s comfortable and persuasive covering the song of others, particularly Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” – the latter as lead singer fronting Darlingside.

Her own writing is also powerful. I especially like “Flutter,” which is equal parts thoughtful and playful, and the eloquent introspection of “Making Me Break,” the title song of her latest album, which was released last month.

Also appearing on Saturday’s bill will be Will Dailey, a singer-songwriter who copped two Boston Music Awards in 2014 plus a pair of New England Music Awards this year. He’s currently touring in support of “National Throat Deluxe,” an album that was released this past March.

Catch Heather Maloney at 8 p.m. May 16 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Maine Playwrights Festival

Aspiring local dramatists and their fans are gathering this week in Portland, as Acorn Productions presents its 14th annual Maine Playwrights Festival. Between May 13 and May 17 five new plays by Maine authors – “Predestination” by Arthur Boatin, “Houston” by Michael Kimball, “3 a.m. at Denny’s” by Shondra Jin Robbins and “Creation” by David Vazdauskkas – will be presented in rotation.

The culminating event will be the fifth annual 24-Hour Portland Theater Project on Sunday, where six new plays are created, rehearsed and presented within a 24-hour period. Maestro of the festival is Michael Levine, a longtime theater activist in Portland and Westbrook. At varied times and wearing various thespian hats, Levine is a producer, director, actor and playwright.

All events are slated for the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill). For complete information, visit acornproductionsportland.wordpress.com.

Sidebar Elements

Heather Maloney, a singer-songwriter whose new indie album, “Making Me Break,” is making waves in the music world, will visit Portland on May 16.