Out & About: Music in Portland, drama in Lewiston

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There’s plenty of music this weekend in Portland. On Saturday, Empire Dine and Dance presents a traditional Irish instrumental duo, flutist Shannon Heaton and harpist Maeve Gilchrist. The occasion is the release of Heaton’s latest CD, “The Blue Dress.”

The Portland String Quartet plays its midwinter concert on Sunday. Works by Franz Schubert and Dmitri Shostakovich are on the bill of fare.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn has a truly intriguing play on the boards through Sunday. “Animals Out of Paper” depicts a dramatic confrontation among three origami artists.

And Portland Ovations is presenting an act that defies easy categorization: Blue Man Group will give four performances in Merrill Auditorium Friday through Sunday.

Shannon Heaton, Maeve Gilchrist

A traditional Celtic flutist who was recently named Female Musician of the Year by the Irish American News is playing in Portland on Saturday, accompanied by a traditional Irish harpist.

Flutist Shannon Heaton is the featured artist, and the occasion is a CD release party for her latest recording, an all-instrumental collection titled “The Blue Dress.” Heaton hails from Boston, where she’s prominent on the city’s red-hot Celtic music scene. She co-founded Boston’s Celtic Music Fest and teaches for the local chapter of Comhaltas, an international society dedicated to the promotion of traditional Irish music.

Heaton traces much of her musical background to the Chicago Irish music scene, and earned a degree in ethno-musicology from Northwestern University.

Accompanying Heaton is Celtic harpist Maeve Gilchrist, who was born in Scotland and lives in New York. She’s is a frequent visitor to Portland and recently released a CD in collaboration with fiddler Darol Anger.

Heptunes presents Shannon Heaton and Maeve Gilchrist at 8 p.m. at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress St. in Portland. Call 879-8988.

Portland String Quartet

One of the pillars of the small-ensemble classical repertoire will be featured this Sunday when the Portland String Quartet performs its midwinter concert, the second of the four-part subscription series.

The celebrated work is Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in D Minor, universally known by its nickname, “Death and the Maiden.”

The four musicians – violinists Stephen Kecskemethy and Ron Lantz plus violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – have been performing and teaching since 1969. The PSQ is the longest-tenured string quartet on the international music scene with all its original members.

The PSQ has played “Death and the Maiden” many times (I’ve heard it at least twice) and no wonder. The 1824 composition, written while Schubert was acutely ill and facing his final days, is a dramatic contemplation of mortality. It speaks to the tragedy of life cut short – the fate of its composer, who died at the height of his creative powers.

Beyond that is the tragedy that Schubert never heard his masterpiece performed or knew the huge public acclaim it would later achieve. The quartet’s spirited third movement and exuberant final movement reveal a creative energy that defies personal misfortune.

The second piece on Sunday’s program will be Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, a work that bears witness to the Soviet Union’s attempt to suffocate the creative spirit during the middle of the 20th century. The composer struggles throughout this piece to assert his relevance and affirm his artistic integrity.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford Ave. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

‘Animals Out of Paper’

Origami is the ancient Japanese art of folding sheets of paper in complex patterns, transforming the two-dimensional medium into intricate three-dimensional sculptures that often depict animals. In addition to its aesthetic merits, origami has been intensely studied as a branch of mathematics and topography.

Origami is fascinating, for sure. But the subject of a modern American drama? That seems rather farfetched.

But that’s part of the fascination with “Animals Out of Paper,” a three-actor drama that’s playing through Sunday at The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.

Written by Rajid Joseph and nominated for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play of 2009, The Public Theatre is presenting its Maine premiere and one of the show’s first fully professional productions outside New York.

A central theme is the losses in life, and the power of art to assuage the pain and heal the wounds. The three characters are all origami artists, but beyond that point, they have nothing in common.

Ilana, a world-renowned origami authority has just lost her husband and her three-legged dog. And to exacerbate these two losses, her creative powers seem to have evaporated – a case of folder’s block. Ilana is visited by Andy, a high school math teacher and official with the American Origami Society who has developed a crush on her. Then there’s Suresh, a troubled teen genius in one of Andy’s classes who finds origami to be an outlet for his mathematical brilliance.

The play is both very funny and very moving, and its ingenious plot and excellent writing tremendously impressed me.

Director Janet Mitchko Schario has assembled a compelling lineup of actors that comprises Caroline Strong as the origami master, Christopher Gerson as the romantically minded math teacher and Vandit Bhatt and the complex and troubled teen genius. Maine origamist and math professor Eva Szillery created the complex origami sculptures that are used on the set.

The Public Theatre, corner of Maple and Lisbon in Lewiston, presents “Animals Out of Paper” with 7:30 p.m. performances Feb. 3-4, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 5 and 2 p.m. Feb. 6. Call 782-3200.

Blue Man Group

Three men, no ears and no words. And all three guys sport faces painted a deep, intense cobalt blue.

That’s the basic formula for one of the most remarkable artistic enterprises in the past three decades: Blue Man Group.

Conceived as an impromptu street performance in New York in the 1980s, Blue Man Group is probably best described as a trio of mimes who perform to music and satirically deal with a variety of technological themes. The original New York group morphed into an Off Broadway theatrical production in 1991. Since then it’s evolved into a worldwide artistic enterprise that now boasts multiple performing companies – one has been playing continuously in Boston since the mid-1990s – in the U.S. and abroad.

The current national touring company visits Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall and performs four times in three days: Feb. 4 at 8 p.m., Feb. 5 at 2 and 8 p.m. and Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800. Blue Man Group is hosted by Portland Ovations.

Sidebar Elements

Flutist Shannon Heaton will be appearing with harpist Maeve Gilchrist at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland on Saturday, Feb. 5