Out & About: Oratorio Chorale does Shakespeare

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Diversity of concept and execution are the hallmarks of three musical programs on the upcoming arts and entertainment calendar.

On Friday, The The Band Band takes the stage at One Longfellow Square in Portland. As implied by the name, this is a tribute ensemble that aims to recreate the music of The Band, the celebrated Canadian-American roots-rock group of the 1970s with the curiously generic moniker.

Oratorio Chorale, under the baton of Emily Isaacson, presents its first outing of 2014 with a program that is inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare. The chorale will be joined by actors from Westbrook-based Naked Shakespeare Ensemble. Three performances are slated, March 7-9 in Brunswick.

Portland Ovations presents So Percussion, a four-man ensemble from New York, in an evening that mixes avant-garde music, theatricality and photography. Portland photographer Bryan Graf will be the featured guest artist in the March 13 performance.

Oratorio Chorale

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, the most celebrated playwright of the English language. Over the past centuries, much music has been inspired by Shakespeare, often to accompany performances of his plays, or sometimes merely suggested by Shakespearean themes.

The Oratorio Chorale’s winter offering is titled “Shakespeare in Concert,” and it commemorates four centuries of the world’s dedication to the Bard.

Performing under the direction of Emily Isaacson, the Chorale will present scenes and songs from “As You Like It,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Tempest,” “Othello,” “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet” and more.

Well-known classical composers include Thomas Morley, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Giuseppe Verdi, Felix Mendelssohn, Matthew Harris and Amy Beach. Two contemporary composers will also be represented: Steven Sametz and Judith Lang Zaimont.

Bowdoin College music professor Mary Hunter will provide pre-concert remarks about music in Shakespeare’s works, both in his own time and in later presentations

Soprano Mary Sullivan will be a featured soloist for this program. Sullivan has performed as soloist for many years with several professional ensembles. She lives in Brunswick and maintains a private voice studio there.

Members of Westbrook-based Acorn Productions’ Naked Shakespeare Ensemble will join the Chorale onstage. Under the direction of Michael Levine, Naked Shakespeare performances bring scenes from the plays to audiences in non-traditional venues, such as wine bars and restaurants. Naked Shakespeare works without sets, lighting or costumes.

This season is the first for the Chorale’s new artistic director, Emily Isaacson. A Brunswick native, Isaacson is a conductor, singer, and music educator recognized for her versatility and energy on the stage. Isaacson is equally at home in orchestral and choral conducting – chamber and large ensembles. She holds two masters degrees in music and is currently working on a Ph.D. in vocal music from the University of Illinois.

Isaacson is currently a visiting faculty member in music at Bowdoin College, where she directs the Chamber Choir. She is also assistant director of the Juventas New Music Ensemble in Boston.

Three performances of “Shakespeare in Concert” are slated for the Bowdoin College chapel on the Brunswick campus: 7:30 p.m. March 7-8 and 3:30 p.m. March 9. Hunter’s pre-concert remarks are scheduled a half-hour prior to the performance. Call 798-7985.

The The Band Band

Enigmatic lyrics and propulsive melodies were the twin signatures of The Band, a five-man Canadian-American roots rock ensemble that flourished in the 1970s. The Band is long gone from the live music scene – in factm two of the members have died – but their recordings of “The Weight,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and others still live on the radio.

Rolling Stone ranked The Band No. 50 on its compilation of Greatest Artists, and “The Weight,” with its exceptionally inscrutable lyric, has been cited as one of the most influential songs in pop music history.

Now there’s another avenue for hearing The Band. A tribute group, calling themselves The The Band Band, has been touring the country, recreating the distinctive look and sound of the original ensemble. They visit Portland this Friday.

The members of The The Band Band are veteran professional musicians who have played on the national stage for more than 25 years. They share a love for the music of The Band, and formed this tribute for the sheer enjoyment of playing their songs. By covering all the well-loved favorites, as well as a broad selection of lesser-known songs, they showcase the astounding breadth and depth of The Band’s distinctively original music.

Catch The The Band Band March 7 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

So Percussion

Pushing the creative boundaries of music is the shtick of a New York experimental ensemble that’s performing March 13 in downtown Portland. Brooklyn-based So Percussion, a four-man ensemble that bangs on all sorts of unconventional drums and sound-making devices, will be joined by two guest artists in a performances of one of its original signature pieces, “Where (We) Live.”

Here’s the group’s statement regarding the concept of “Where (We) Live”:

“For eight years, So Percussion has made our home in Brooklyn amid two million five hundred thousand others. In our city, each of the group’s four members has constructed a personal ecosystem we call home. These homes are bound by space, time, sound and image. Equally, these spaces house rewarding, frustrating, supporting, damaging, tangible and never understood relationships.

“When we leave those homes, our four members unite to create another artistic home, with its own unspoken rules and expectations; its own rhythm of interaction, its own banalities and mystery.

“‘Where (We) Live’ questions all these homes by purposefully inviting the unknown to ‘come on over.’ We’ve asked video artists, songwriters, painters, choreographers, directors and others to substantively alter our process. The resulting performance contains a society of possibilities: composed pieces, chance elements, visual associations, and theatrical interactions.”

Two guest artists will join So Percussion. Grey McMurray is a songwriter/guitarist, who has composed a score to accompany “Where (We) Live.” McMurray is on tour with So Percussion, and always performs on this work.

So Percussion also works with a local artist in each city it visits. For the March 13 performance, the guest is Portland photographer Bryan Graf, who has assembled a collection of images that will be used in this one-off production.

Portland Ovations presents “Where (We) Live” March 13 at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at the Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St. in Portland. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

So Percussion is a four-man ensemble from New York that explores the sonic frontiers of art music. Portland Ovations hosts two performances of the group’s “Where (We) Live” on March 13.