Out & About: Oratorio Chorale ventures beyond concerts

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The Midcoast-based Oratorio Chorale seems to be hyperactive this spring. On the heels of last weekend’s concerts by the organization’s all-female cohort, artistic director Emily Isaacson has another event coming up this weekend, and she’s going beyond the simple concert format.

“What Binds Us Together: The Binding of Isaac Story in Music” is a multimedia presentation and panel discussion that involves her musicians and ventures into thorny theological issues.

Ludwig van Beethoven is the reigning superhero as the DaPonte String Quartet wraps up its 2018-2019 season with six concerts in six venues.

Oratorio Chorale

The Binding of Isaac is one of the most emotionally heart-wrenching stories in both the Hebrew Bible and the Koran. Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, accepts an order from God to sacrifice Isaac, his favorite son, as a test of his faith. Abraham complies by tying Isaac to a sacrificial altar. Satisfied with Abraham’s unwavering faith, God intervenes at the last moment, and a ram is sacrificed instead.

In three upcoming concerts, the Oratorio Chorale will present musical takes on this story, found in Genesis 22. The concerts, offered May 2 in Portland and twice on May 4 in Brunswick, present the story in music from many cultures.

Not satisfied with the musical interpretations of this story, artistic director Emily Isaacson is partnering with the Maine Jewish Film Festival, Temple Beth-El, and the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, to present “What Binds Us Together,” a series of events comprising a multimedia lecture, Holocaust Remembrance Day community observance, film screening and concerts. The series of interfaith, multimedia experiences is aimed at creating dialogue among religious communities in southern Maine.

Isaacson explained her musical concept in this micro-essay:

“This concert has three aims. First, it presents the primary texts from each of the religions – Genesis 22:1-24 from the Torah, the translation from the King James Bible, and its Koranic counterpart, Surah 37: 100-113, to show the shared heritage among these three faiths.

“Second, it explores composers across four centuries and several countries – Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674, Italian), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976, English), Aharon Harlap (b.1941, Israeli), Steve Reich (b. 1936, American), Howard Frazin (b. 1962, American) – who have engaged the text to center or deconstruct the essential aspects of the narrative.

“And, third, it investigates how these composers use musical and extra-musical devices to build a dramatic or theological narrative. We find that historically, artists have engaged the Sacrifice Story in three different ways: as a guide to moral conduct, as an exemplar of theatrical drama, and as political propaganda. How an artist has used the story suggests not only the individual artist’s perspective but also their values.”

The concerts are scheduled May 2 at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, 400 Deering Ave. in Portland and May 4 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, 1 Middle St. in Brunswick. Call 577-3931.

DaPonte String Quartet

With fictional superheroes all over the media these days, it’s appropriate that the DaPonte String Quartet will wrap up its 2018-2019 series with six concerts featuring classical music’s No. 1 superhero: Ludwig van Beethoven.

The German composer who revolutionized so many aspects of music as the 18th century turned to the 19th will be the only composer on the DaPontes’ program. Three of Beethoven’s string quartets will be played, beginning with No. 12 and then proceeding to Nos. 4 and 11.

Of all his compositions, Beethoven’s 17 string quartets are among the most admired and lauded works in musical history.

Why? Morgan Lamonica, of the University of Michigan, commented: “Beethoven was arguably the most critical figure in creating the movement from the classical era to the romantic era. Take a listen and you’ll see that his string quartets are easily the most intimate of his works. That’s because they involve only four voices, each with its own personality. For audience members, Beethoven’s string quartets are a keyhole to Beethoven’s genius during some of his most vulnerable times.

“Beethoven took the string quartet to the next level, a level, perhaps, too high for many people of his time. While his predecessors like Mozart and Haydn wrote incredible string quartets as well, Beethoven had something new and exciting to offer in his string quartets. He added a new depth, variation, and complexity.”

A total of six performances in six venues are scheduled, including the Unitarian-Universalist Church, 1 Middle St. in Brunswick at 2 p.m. May 5, and the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland at 7:30 p.m. May 9. For other places and dates, call 529-4555 or visit DaPonte.org.

Emily Isaacson is the artistic director of the Oratorio Chorale, which is leading a collaboration of several organizations in a multimedia presentation of “The Binding of Isaac,” one of the most engaging stories of the Hebrew Bible.

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