Out & About: Moody makes his exit with Mahler

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Per usual, there’s quite a variety of upcoming musical happenings, with multiple genres represented.

In terms of significance for southern Maine’s cultural milieu, Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody wraps up his 10-year tenure with two performances of Gustav Mahler’s massive “Resurrection Symphony.” That’s happening on Sunday and Tuesday.

Keeping within the classical vein, Portland Ballet is offering two performances of “The Firebird” in Westbrook on Friday and Saturday. Artistic director Nell Shipman promises some new twists on this classic terpsichorean confrontation between good and evil.

April Fest, the month-long contemporary jazz series at the Portland Conservatory of Music, wraps up this Friday with an appearance by pianist Laszlo Gardony and his two longtime sidekicks.

Eilen Jewell is a Boston-based Americana artist I much admire. She’ll be performing with her three sidekicks in Portland on May 2.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

After 10 years on the podium of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, maestro Robert Moody is stepping down. He’s moving up to lead the Memphis Symphony, which has a busier schedule and a bigger budget. Plus he’ll continue a schedule of guest conducting.

I’ve attended nearly all of Moody’s Classical Tuesday series and about half of his Pops! concerts, and I’m sorry to see him go. The variety of his programming is excellent. He’s picked some very interesting contemporary works, and his love of the classical canon has been evident from the get-go. The highlight of Moody’s tenure was the series of all nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven – which also set some sort of snowed-out record for the PSO.

For his farewell program, Moody is going big. He’s picked one of the biggest pieces in the classical orchestral repertoire, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, subtitled “Resurrection.” It calls for a massive orchestra, soprano soloist, mezzo-soprano soloist and mixed chorus. Its five long movements preclude anything else on the concert.

Mahler knew he was on to something big. It took him seven years to complete the score, and he conducted its premiere in Berlin in 1895. Numerous revisions followed, the last in 1905. It was one of the composer’s most popular works, and has remained a crowning glory of the symphonic canon from the inception.

Soprano Twyla Robinson has forged a career as a soloist in big orchestral pieces; she’s performed with the PSO before, in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem,” and she’s worked with Moody on other occasions. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Bishop performs with both opera companies and orchestras; she was last here for Bela Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle.”

ChoralArt (formerly the Choral Art Society) is southern Maine’s premier large vocal ensemble. Led by Robert Russell, retired professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, ChoralArt is known through its annual appearances with the PSO and for an ambitious performing schedule of its own.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” for two performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: April 29 at 2:30 p.m. and May 1 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Firebird’

A handsome prince breaks a spell cast by an evil sorcerer and marries a beautiful princess. Sound familiar? It’s the basic plot of a number of classical European ballets, and one of the most famous of them is being performed this weekend in Westbrook by Portland Ballet.

“The Firebird” was a landmark in the history of ballet, marking the beginning of the collaboration of choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and composer Igor Stravinsky. It is based on two characters from Russian folklore: Prince Ivan, an all-around decent fellow, and his downright spooky nemesis, Kostchei the Immortal, a nasty enchanter.

A mortal nice guy versus a powerful and malevolent demigod? That would seem to be a very unequal battle, but Prince Ivan has a magical helper: the ballet’s avian namesake. Appearing as a beautiful woman in the form of a brilliant red bird, the Firebird helps Ivan break Kostchei’s spell and kill the evil malefactor. And everybody else lives happily ever after.

“The Firebird” will be performed by Portland Ballet’s corps of professional dancers and top students. Nell Shipman, the company’s artistic director, has promised some new twists on the traditional choreography.

Portland Ballet presents “The Firebird” at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 71 Stroudwater St. (Westbrook Middle School) for two performances: April 27 at 7:30 p.m. and April 28 at 2 p.m. Call 772-9671.

Laszlo Gardony Trio

All good things must come to an end, and that includes April Fest, the four-Friday series offered by Dimensions in Jazz, a program of the Portland Conservatory of Music.

For this final Friday in April, curator Paul Lichter has invited Hungarian-born Berklee College professor and jazz pianist Laszlo Gardony and his namesake ensemble. Gardony was classically trained as a pianist, and at Berklee he’s collaborated on a number of different projects in multiple genres, including bluegrass.

Gardony’s latest CD, “Serious Play,” was released in September of last year, and the Boston Globe ranked it among its 10 Best Jazz Albums of 2017. Reviewing the album for Down Beat magazine, Carlo Wolff noted that “there’s a stillness at the center of Gardony’s music, a distinctive amalgam of central European folk strains, majestic classical piano and improvisational fearlessness.”

Catch the Laszlo Gardony Trio at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St., at 8 p.m. April 27. Call 775-3356.

Eilen Jewell

There’s a distinction in the music world between musicologist and performer. The former studies music, while the latter interprets it in live performances and recording studios.

Singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell is the rare double bill. Her performances are informed by a deep study of songs from the past, their composers and contexts. Country music is one branch of Americana, and a few years ago she researched that role to the point of recording an entire album of Loretta Lynn songs. Most recently, Jewell released “Down Hearted Blues,” a CD containing a number of obscure tunes from the early years of the blues.

Jewell maintains that she’s honoring history, while breathing new life into each of her musical discoveries.

She’s appearing May 2 in Portland, and I expect that she’ll sing quite a few selections from this album, plus a goodly selection of her own writing. She’ll be backed by her own three-man band. The opening act will be singer-songwriter Steve Fulton, who shares many of Jewell’s old-fashioned values. For one thing, he still records on vinyl.

Catch Eilen Jewell and Steve Fulton May 2 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Eilen Jewell is a Boston-based singer-songwriter who’ll appear with her three-man band on May 2 in Portland.