Out & About: Modern music, old-fashioned comedy

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

As the fall-winter-spring seasons of many of Maine’s producing, presenting and performing companies draw to an end, the summer season of music festivals is getting an early start this weekend.

The Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, produced by the Portland Conservatory of Music, presents four concerts of works by living classical composers, including several from Maine.

“Enchanted April” is an enchanting and very old-fashioned romantic comedy that revolves around themes of emotional renewal and rediscovery. A superb community production is on the boards through Sunday at City Theater in Biddeford.

Louis Apollon is a singer-songwriter from Boston with a creative bent toward modern folk and contemporary jazz. He’s released a new album, and is currently on tour, with a Portland stop scheduled for May 23.

Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival

For the past nine years the Portland Conservatory of Music has sponsored a one-weekend series of concerts by contemporary composers, many of whom live in Maine and teach at the school. Dubbed the Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival, the weekend offers a showcase for established and emerging talents.

This year’s edition promises more of the same, but in a different setting. The festival is moving from the conservatory’s Woodford’s Corner home to a downtown setting.

For 2018, four concerts are slated in four different venues, all within a few hundred yards of each other on Congress Street: Mechanics Hall, First Parish Church, SPACE Gallery and Maine College of Art.

Concert attendees will enjoy an eclectic array of exciting new chamber music by two dozen composers from Maine and northern New England, all of whom expect to be present to introduce their pieces and interact with the audience.

One of the festival’s most prominent composers will be Francis Kayali, a French-American whose works have been performed by many ensembles in the U.S., including the Charleston, South Carolina, Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. For the 2017-2018 academic year, Kayali is the conservatory’s composer in residence; he particularly focuses on the school’s prestigious Karger College Prep Program.

Another nationally prominent composer will be Dan Godfrey, co-founder and longtime director of the Seal Bay Music Festival on the Penobscot Bay island of Vinalhaven. Godfrey has composed for the Portland String Quartet and he co-authored a major college text, “Music Since 1945,” with the late Elliott Schwartz of South Freeport.

The conservatory’s 2018 festival also marks the debut of Seven Seasons, a recently formed sextet devoted to new music conducted by Del Case. The core of this new ensemble is the Portland Piano Trio, comprising pianist Annie Antonacos, violinist Tracey Jasas-Hardel and cellist Ben Noyes. They will play a piano trio written for them by Richard Nelson.

At the Bob Crewe Gallery of the Maine College of Art, several works on the program explore connections between visual and performance art and music. Ling-Wen Tsai, a faculty sculptor, will present a performance piece in collaboration with guitarist and composer Nathan Kolosko.

At the First Parish, a new work for organ by Harold Stover will be featured. Stover is a longtime church organist and choral director who teaches at the conservatory.

The Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival begins on Friday evening, May 18, and wraps up on Sunday evening, May 20. For complete info, call 775-3356 or visit PortlandConservatoryofMusic.org.

‘Enchanted April’

Emotional renewal, revival and rediscovery are the closely related themes of “Enchanted April,” a romantic comedy by Matthew Barber that’s based on a novel by British author Elizabeth von Arnim. A superb community production runs through Sunday at City Theater in Biddeford.

The setting is first London and then Italy in 1922, a few years after World War I, when Britain lost about a million men.

The cast comprises eight characters who revolve around an axis of two middle-aged wives of well-to-do Londoners. Their marriages are succumbing to entropy, and each wishes to escape from her case of emotional ennui.

They rent a castle in Italy for the month of April, 1922, and then advertise for two female traveling companions to split the cost. One of these is an imperious old widow, a haughty socialite whose life is totally encased in the past. The other is a young, fashionable flapper, the widow of a soldier who died in World War I.

The cast is filled out by the two husbands, the castle’s owner and its resident cook-housekeeper.

During their month at the castle, which is a visual extravaganza of spring flowers, each of the four women rediscovers herself and renews relationships.

Director Linda Sturdivant has assembled a wonderful cast, led by Gusta Johnson playing a female dynamo, an irrepressible force whose innate optimism and energy drive the action. I also liked Rebecca Cole as her subdued opposite number. Doni Tamblyn turned in a fine performance as the old widow, while Stephanie Maloney convincingly portrayed the emotionally aloof young widow.

Special kudos go to Jennine Cannizzo as the cook-housekeeper of the castle; she is the comic gem of this play.

The three men – Caleb Lucy, Charlie Cole and Benjamin Keller – definitely have subordinate roles.

City Theater, 205 Main St. in Biddeford, presents “Enchanted April” through May 20 with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 282-0849.

Louis Apollon

“Free to Be,” singer-songwriter Louis Apollon’s debut CD, is a collection of songs that explore human nature and life experiences. It’s also a quick summary of his recent biography.

Born to Haitian parents in a musical milieu in New York, until a few years ago Apollon seemed destined to be an executive in a Chicago business firm. But Apollon’s once-promising business career succumbed to his desire to write music and perform, and he enrolled in Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. Jazz and folk were primary influences, and he’s currently launching a new life that revolves around writing and performing.

Last fall Apollon released “Free to Be,” and he’s currently on tour to promote the album. I asked him to summarize the underlying philosophy that drives his creativity.

“As an artist, I am always looking for a chance to create a space where people can let go of their differences, feel uplifted and safe through the powers of music and art,” he replied.

“Free to Be” displays Apollon’s signature jazz-folk style, bringing an exciting mix of cultures, energy and infectious positivity. His songs deal with themes that we can all relate to: love, heartbreak, connections with nature, loss of a loved – one and ultimately finding and believing in oneself.

Catch Louis Apollon at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland, at 8 p.m. May 23. Call 761-1757.

Louis Apollon, a singer-songwriter from Boston whose creativity leans toward folk and jazz, will appear in Portland May 23.

0