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A big week for music is shaping up in southern Maine, with an interesting variety of performances of works from multiple sources and inspirations.
Most intriguing is Saturday’s concert by the Orchestra of the Longfellow Chorus, under the direction of Charles Kaufmann. Titled “Music from the Gilded Age,” the program is entirely devoted to pieces written for theatrical performance in Boston in the decades following the American Civil War.
Two contemporary singer-songwriters from the Deep South are teaming up on a double bill in Portland on March 24: Louisianan Mary Gauthier and Alabaman Allison Moorer.
The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s March 24 program will highlight concertmaster Charles Dimmick in a performance of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2.
Charles Kaufmann is a relative newcomer to the Maine music scene, but he’s already making a significant imprint as the founder and conductor of the Longfellow Chorus and its associated orchestra. Kaufmann’s stated mission is to perform music that’s connected to Portland native poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and some of his contemporaries.
This Saturday’s program is entirely drawn from the theatrical archives of Harvard University (where Longfellow taught in the decade prior to the Civil War) and most of the 17 pieces slated for this concert haven’t been heard in years. They were mostly written or arranged by Charles Koppitz, a German-born theatrical director and impresario of the period.
Among these marches, galops, waltzes and polkas are humorous scenes and musical novelties. The “Telegraph Polka” uses a telegraph machine as a percussion solo instrument.
Another novelty is the “Velocipede Galop.” Written in 1869, it describes the bicycle mania that broke out in Boston that year. Joining the orchestra will be members of Woodside One Wheelers, a performing circus arts group from Topsham.
The concert culminates in highlights from the burlesque comic opera “Evangeline, Or the Belle of Acadie,” an 1874 take-off on Longfellow’s epic poem. This version of “Evangeline” was a tremendously popular show, credited with more than 1,000 performances in Boston and a later run on Broadway as one of America’s first musical comedies.
Catch this intriguing concert at 4 p.m. March 21 at the John Ford Theater at Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Ave. Call 232-8920.
Two leading proponents of Americana music have teamed up on a joint tour that visits Portland on March 24. Both are female singer-songwriters who hail from the Deep South: Louisiana native Mary Gauthier and Alabaman Allison Moorer.
I expect this will be one of Portland’s best concerts of the year, and I’ve already reserved my tickets.
Gauthier is one of those artists who harness the emotional horsepower of their own unhappy experiences to advance their music. In Gauthier’s case, that means a host of issues.
“The acclaimed Louisiana singer and songwriter tackles the most powerful story of all – that of her own life – in this extraordinarily powerful and clear-eyed song cycle, encompassing issues of abandonment, adoption, identity, blame forgiveness and love, set to music as richly diverse as the thematic content,” wrote Randy Lewis in reviewing “Foundling,” Gauthier’s 2005 CD for the Los Angeles Times.
The Americana Music Association also took notice. The album garnered the organization’s New Artist of the Year honor for Gauthier.
Although she also draws inspiration from hardship – the murder/suicide of her parents, two marriage/divorces and an autistic child – Moorer tends toward more traditional and melodic styles of writing and performing. And despite her talents as a songwriter – she’s received nominations for a Grammy and an Oscar – Moorer enjoys frequent forays into songs written by artists who have inspired her own creativity.
Her work has been expressed in a series of nine CDs, beginning with “Alabama Song” in 1998 and continuing through “Down to Believing,” which is being released this week.
I expect that we’ll hear many songs from this latter album in the concert. Moorer has commented on the title song: “‘Down to Believing’ is quite possibly one of my best songs, one of the most honest songs about marriage,” she wrote. “It seems to me that, after a certain point, you’re just trying to figure out how to make it work, because the bloom comes off the rose. You gotta figure out if you believe in it enough to go one more day.”
Catch Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer at 8 p.m. March 24 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.
Bela Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 is a landmark of modern symphonic composition that unfortunately doesn’t get played as often as it should. So music lovers should welcome the opportunity to hear this work on Tuesday, when it’s the centerpiece of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s fifth Tuesday Classical concert of the 2014-2015 season.
Bartok was Hungarian, and is known for incorporating elements of his native national music into the classical idiom. Concerto No. 2 was written and premiered in the late 1930s, near the end of the composer’s long and much-honored career.
The soloist is very familiar: PSO principal violinist/concertmaster Charles Dimmick, who has been in the first chair for 15 years.
“This is a concerto that’s long been near and dear to my heart,” commented Dimmick. “This is absolutely vintage Bartok. It uses a lot of the same folk melodies that we’re used to hearing in a lot of his other famous music. He also shows that he knew how to write for the violin as well as anybody in the 20th century. It is full of Romantic melodies and virtuosity and he’s really into orchestration.”
On the podium will be guest conductor Paul Polivnick, former music director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and the New Hampshire Music Festival. Dimmick also noted that Polivnick started his career as a violinist, and truly understands the nuances and subtle tempo changes required by No. 2.
Two other pieces are also on the program. The concert opener will be the overture to “The Gypsy Baron,” an 1885 comic operetta by Johann Strauss the Younger. The finale will be Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 90. The work dates from the apex of Haydn’s career, when he was rightly regarded as the finest composer of his epoch in all musical formats and lionized in every capital in Europe. No. 90 also contains a famous musical joke in the final movement.
Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. March 24 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Charles Dimmick, the concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, will be the featured soloist in the March 24 concert, playing Bela Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2.