Out & About: Multimedia performance, modern Franco music

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This week’s picks of the tix venture far from the ordinary.

By far the most intriguing item on the calendar is slated for this Friday, and it’s hosted by Portland Ovations: Jenny Scheinman’s “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” is a multimedia presentation that combines original music with an extraordinary American documentary film from the 1930s and 1940s.

Three of southern Maine’s premier musical organizations are teaming up for an extraordinary concert on March 14. The Portland Symphony Orchestra will be joined by ChoralArt and the Oratorio Chorale for Johannes Brahms’ masterpiece, “A German Requiem.”

In a much more intimate vein and tiny venue, Vishten is a traditional Franco ensemble from Canada’s Maritime Provinces that will visit Portland on Sunday.

‘Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait’

“It was like seeing ghosts in perfect focus.”

That was Jenny Scheinman’s comment on first seeing a series of films dating from the years shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. Those films, plus Scheinman’s own musical artistry, form the basis for “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait,” a multimedia performance project that will be hosted by Portland Ovations this Friday.

The films were shot by H. Lee Waters, a photographer whose primary business went bust during the Great Depression. Undaunted, Waters created a new business model, which he called “Movies of Local People.” He took his camera to various public locales in cities and towns and filmed hundreds of people in everyday situations. Then he developed and edited his films and returned a few weeks later to show them. They were a huge hit, and Waters happily discovered a new way to earn a living.

Altogether Waters created 118 editions of this formula film; the result was an extraordinary amount of footage of ordinary people in a geographic area centered on North Carolina.

Three-quarters of a century after Waters worked, a creative team led by Scheinman edited his 118 film productions down to their most vivid and poignant scenes. Then Scheinman wrote 17 songs to accompany public screenings, each composed to underscore a scene’s message.

Scheinman is an accomplished composer, singer and fiddler who studied at Oberlin Conservatory. For this Friday’s performance she’ll be joined by two men who’ll share vocal duties and play banjo and several types of guitars.

Scheinman believes that this multi-media experience provides an unmatched glimpse into the past. “These are America’s home movies,” she says. “They contain a clue to our nature, an imprint of our ancestry.”

The first of Waters’ films that Scheinman viewed was made in Kannapolis, North Carolina, a center of textile manufacturing. But the images suggest far more, avers Scheinman: “To the virgin ear, ‘Kannapolis’ evokes some sort of iconic city, perhaps the home of a forgotten superhero, or the cradle of some parallel civilization.”

Portland Ovations presents “Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait” at 8 p.m. March 10 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Vishten

Traditional Franco music infused with contemporary stylings and 21st-century energy: That’s the formula that Vishten has been following for more than a decade.

Hailing from the Francophone communities on two islands in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Vishten is a trio of globetrotting multi-instrumentalists and singers who entertain the world with high-voltage concerts.

Vishten’s recent global travels included France, Scotland and Ireland last month; this March the trio is starting a U.S. tour that includes Portland on Sunday evening, hosted as part of New England Celtic Arts’ ongoing concert series.

From traditional roots, these three musicians – two women and one man – have crafted a unique melding of neo-traditional music that combines extensive archival research, original compositions, traditional French Acadian songs and virtuoso instrumental performances.

Vishten’s infectious rhythms of tapping feet and lilting vocals blend seamlessly with the fiddle, guitar, accordion, octave mandolin, whistles, piano, bodhran and mouth harp to offer a concert experience that illustrates the group’s expansive sense of the world and breathes new energy and beauty into traditional songs.

They’ve also garnered a slew of awards over the past 10 years. Most recently “Terre Rouge” (“Red Earth”) won Best Roots/Traditional Album at the 2016 East Coast Music Awards. The title refers to the deep red soil of Prince Edward Island, home to two of the three trio members, and it symbolizes a return to the roots of Franco traditions that Vishten exemplifies.

Catch Vishten at 7 p.m. March 12 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Two sacred works from the German musical tradition plus one from contemporary America will be performed when the Portland Symphony Orchestra continues its Tuesday Classical series on March 14.

Expect a big evening: Maestro Robert Moody’s usual musical forces will be augmented by two choral ensembles plus a pair of solo singers.

The concert will open with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Komm, Suesser Tod” (“Come, Sweet Death”), a cantata dating from about 1736 with a more modern orchestration by Leopold Stokowski that was composed in 1946.

Dan Forrest, a 38-year-old American composer, wrote the second piece, titled “In Paradisum.” Forrest describes his work: “This setting uses a wide variety of Scriptural texts, which, though written thousands of years apart, all speak to mankind’s burning desire to glimpse the afterlife by revealing the compassionate character and precious promises of God to His people.”

The biggest work on the program will be Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem,” which the composer undertook in memory of his mother and Robert Schumann, his musical idol. The title comes from the fact that Brahms – an avid reader of the Bible – avoided the normal Latin text. Instead he compiled the text himself from nine different books of the Lutheran Bible, all in his native German language.

Brahms also deviated from the typical requiem pattern by de-emphasizing death and instead affirming life. After it was premiered in 1869 in Leipzig, the composer commented: “Now I am consoled. I have surmounted obstacles that I thought I could never overcome, and I feel like an eagle, soaring ever higher and higher.”

Soprano Twyla Robinson and baritone Troy Cook will tackle the solo roles in the “German Requiem.” Robinson has performed her part with Moody before with the Winston-Salem Symphony.

The choral parts will be handled by two southern Maine ensembles: ChoralArt, under the direction of Robert Russell, and Oratorio Chorale, led by Emily Isaacson.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. March 14. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Vishten is a Franco trio from Canada’s Prince Edward Island that will visit Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Sunday.

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