Out & About: Music festivals, musical theater throughout Maine

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Maine’s unrelenting schedule of music festivals and musical theater continues as the second big month of the summer arts season approaches.

Two radically different music festivals are running this weekend on the coast and inland. The Charles E. Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music happens in Brunswick, spotlighting the work of modern composers in the classical tradition. Gamper is a sub-unit within the larger Bowdoin International Music Festival, and this Saturday’s concert features a composition written specifically for the occasion.

In South Hiram, the Ossipee Valley Music Festival also focuses on contemporary music, but honoring the traditions of old-time roots, bluegrass and country.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard” is a dark Broadway musical that’s set in Hollywood of the early 1950s. The emotional horsepower is provided by the self-delusions of an aging diva of the silent screen and the tragic consequences for a young man who happens to cross paths with her.

Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music

Most of Maine’s classical music festivals have a modern component, which sometimes simply means playing a few 20th- and 21st-century compositions. From its beginnings in the mid-1960s, the Bowdoin International Music Festival has been far more committed to contemporary classical. Festival artistic director Lewis Kaplan invites the world’s top composers to teach, write new works and have them played for live audiences.

That’s the central concept of the Charles E. Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, a three-concert sub-unit within the larger BIMF. It’s named in honor of an early supporter, who was profoundly impressed by artistic director Lewis Kaplan’s devotion to modern works.

The Gamper Festival concerts are slated for July 26, July 28 and July 29, and Saturday’s will be a special memorial to his son, David Gamper, a 1967 Bowdoin graduate who also had a passion for music. David Gamper played cello and clarinet, and had a keen interest in electronic manipulation of sounds – an interest that was intensified by study with Elliott Schwartz, who at that time was Bowdoin’s up-and-coming classical composer.

David Gamper died earlier this year, and his memory will be honored by a new piece composed by his former teacher and mentor. Schwartz has named it “Remembering David: Echo Variations,” noting that his composition is scored for cello, clarinet, horn, piano and electronic manipulation. The four electronic parts – about a minute apiece – were recorded by Gamper while studying with Schwartz. Plus “Remembering David” uses excerpts from Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites, which the Gamper knew well and loved.

The three concerts of the Gamper Festival take place at 7:30 p.m. at Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-3895 or visit www.bowdoinfestival.org.

Ossipee Valley Music Festival

Beyond bluegrass: That could be an alternative title for the Ossipee Valley Music Festival, which runs this weekend in South Hiram. Impresario Bill Johnson once co-directed three different bluegrass festivals, and the present production is an outgrowth of that experience.

The venue is the Ossipee Valley Fairground. Expect four days of concerts on two separate, simultaneous stages from a huge variety of nearly two dozen artists and ensembles who honor America’s rural roots in sometimes surprising fashion. These include internationally known musicians, such as Tony Emmanuel, Blue Highway, Boxcars, Claire Lynch Band, Missy Raines and the New Hip and the Hot Club of Cowtown.

Interpolated into the mix will be some artists that are chiefly known within the Pine Tree State, such as Cribstone Bridge, Tricky Britches and Chasing Blue. A personal favorite, from Portsmouth, N.H., is the Bagboys – a fun ensemble whose lead singer is a Baggirl.

Plus there’s the New England Flatpicking Championship and the New England Songwriting Championship. Throw in a variety of workshops and round-the-clock “field picking” and off-stage performances and you get the picture.

As with any alfresco festival, bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray. Food vendors abound, and Saturday’s charity benefit chicken barbecue is outstanding.

The general schedule is Thursday evening, all day Friday and Saturday and most of Sunday. For a detailed lineup, visit www.ossipeevalley.com.

‘Sunset Boulevard’

In the late 20th century, Andrew Lloyd Webber was the most successful composer of theatrical musicals for London’s West End and New York’s Broadway. Since the 1970s, the British-born composer boasts an incredible string of hits including the two longest-running shows in Broadway history.

A few of Webber musicals are more problematic. These include “Sunset Boulevard,” a musical stage adaptation of the 1950 Billy Wilder film of the same name.

With libretto by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, “Sunset Boulevard” opened on the West End in 1993 and enjoyed a two-year run on Broadway between 1994 and 1997. That production garnered 11 Tony Award nominations, winning seven. Although the Broadway run was respectable, it was far below Webber’s norm and the show was a financial failure.

Artistically speaking, “Sunset Boulevard” is a tour de force of thespian vision and performance, and that’s the essence of Maine State Music Theatre’s current production, which runs through Aug. 4.

At Wilder’s suggestion, the musical version uses an operatic model, where spoken dialogue is downplayed and most of the libretto is sung. This departure from the Broadway norm can be annoying in the early scenes, where the audience must follow considerable exposition and character introduction via a welter of confusing lyrics.

Set in the late 1940s – and closely following the film version – “Sunset Boulevard” depicts a young Hollywood screenwriter (Gregg Goodbrod) who’s down on his luck. To make ends meet, he collaborates on a script written by an aging and largely forgotten movie star (Denise Whelan) from the silent film era. Despite a 20-year age difference, the faded film star not only dreams of an utterly impossible comeback to the silver screen, she has romantic designs on the young man.

As befits a diva, Whelan owns the show. She’s mesmerizing, tantalizing and utterly mysterious. She has a fine voice, best exhibited through some of Lloyd Webber’s lushly melodious songs.

Goodbrod is superb throughout. He portrays a strong lead character, plus he occasionally steps aside to narrate key parts of the show. I also loved two of the supporting cast. Lauren Blackman plays the writer’s love interest. One of the highlights of the show is “Too Much in Love to Care,” a lyrical and moving duet sung by Goodbrod and Blackman.

David Girolmo plays a dark and mysterious servant. His profoundly deep voice is equally memorable.

Robert Kovach’s elaborate sets and Kurt Alger’s exquisite costumes are other highlights of MSMT’s excellent production.

Call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

Sidebar Elements

An aging diva of the silent screen is the central character in “Sunset Boulevard,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s dark musical set in Hollywood of the early 1950s.