Out & About: Raise the curtain for music, theater

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With this first full week of autumn, four of southern Maine’s arts producers are launching their 2017-2018 seasons.

In musical theater, venerable Portland Players opened its 87th season with a hilarious production of “Nunsense,” the cornerstone of Dan Goggins’ thespian franchise based on his fictional Little Sisters of Hoboken.

Portland Symphony Orchestra will play the first pair of concerts of its 2017-2018 Pops! season this Saturday and Sunday. Musical theater composer George Gershwin will be featured.

Two classical series also get underway this weekend. First up, on Friday the Faculty Concert Series at the University of Southern Maine School of Music launches with a program showcasing the viola, sometimes considered “the Cinderella of string instruments.”

On Sunday, Portland String Quartet gets going with a program featuring music of France.

‘Nunsense’

It’s a musical comedy, a thespian franchise and a theatrical industry. That’s “Nunsense,” a delightful small-scale musical that opened Off-Broadway in New York in 1985 and ran for 10 years. It still holds the record for the second-longest Off-Broadway run in history.

Franchise? The original “Nunsense” spawned six sequels and two spin-offs. Industry? The “Nunsense” ensemble has grossed more than half a billion dollars, playing in dozens of countries in nearly 30 different languages. “Nunsense” is also a delightful evening of musical comedy, and that’s what’s happening through Oct. 8 at Portland Players.

Dan Goggins wrote the whole thing: book, music and lyrics.

Here’s the shtick. Five nuns present an evening of song and dance in the auditorium of the Mount Saint Helen’s School. Over the course of the evening, five daffy characters, each with her own lovable and laughable personality, emerge. Sometimes racy, but never in poor taste, the five nuns totally win over their audience with melody, lyrics, jokes and dance.

I’ve seen this show many times, and this current production represents the acme of community theater.

Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Nunsense” through Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-7337.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

It’s a great weekend for lovers of George Gershwin. Lyric Music Theater will run its Gershwin show (reviewed on this page last week), “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” through Sunday, and now the Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its 2017-2018 Pops! season this weekend with a program entirely devoted to the iconic American composer.

Known in his own day – the 1920s and 1930s – primarily as a composer of Broadway musicals, Gershwin also wrote one highly regarded opera and two pieces of light classical music that are frequently played in concert halls around the world. Gershwin lived and composed in the era of jazz, and that genre infuses much of his work.

Attendees at this weekend’s Pops! concerts will experience all three aspects of Gershwin. The program lists four selections from “Girl Crazy,” a 1930 Broadway show, two selections from “Porgy and Bess,” Gershwin’s opera, plus the two light classical pieces. The first is “An American in Paris,” a very jazzy piece which famously includes honking taxicab horns. The second is “Rhapsody in Blue,” which can be described as a piano concerto.

Three visiting artists will appear. First is guest conductor Eckart Preu, who is one of the finalists in the search to replace outgoing maestro Robert Moody. Vocal selections will be handled by guest soprano Jacqueline Bolier. Terrence Wilson will play the big piano part in “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “A Gershwin Celebration” twice this weekend at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

USM Faculty Concert

One of the jewels of this region’s musical calendar is the annual public concert series given by the faculty of the University of Southern Maine School of Music. Embracing both jazz and classical, the Faculty Concert Series is known for interesting combinations and programming.

That’s certainly the case this Friday, when music for the viola is showcased in the series’ season-opener. Viola prof Kimberly Lehmann will team up with piano virtuoso Chiharu Naruse in a program of music by four composers representing four countries and four periods.

The viola has the dubious distinction of being the most-overlooked among the string instruments. It fits in between the violin and the cello, larger and pitched higher than the former and smaller and pitched lower than the latter.

Lehmann has great affection for her chosen instrument. “I love playing the viola because it has the best of both worlds, sometimes joining the melodic instruments and sometimes playing the lower harmonies in a piece,” she explains. “Its tone is mellow, dark and smooth.”

Franz Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is a piece that Lehmann has always wanted to play. “Schubert creates such beautiful, heartfelt melodies that span the whole range of emotions, from longing and sadness to playfulness and joy,” she says. “It’s so suited to the tonal qualities of the viola, which some say sounds like the human voice.”

Catch the first offering of the 2017-2018 University of Southern Maine School of Music Faculty Concert Series on Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. at Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus. Call 780-5555.

Portland String Quartet

Forty-nine and counting. That’s one facet of the Portland String Quartet’s upcoming 2017-2018 season. Founded in 1969 as a sub-unit of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the PSQ has been independently performing and recording for more than 30 years.

The PSQ comprises violinists Dean Stein and Ron Lantz, violist Julia Adams and cellist Patrick Owen. Lantz and Adams are founding members of the foursome.

The PSQ’s season opens on Sunday with a program that celebrates the music of France. The two big items are a string quartet by Cesar Franck, written near the end of his long career, and the only string quartet written by Claude Debussy.

The Debussy piece marked an historical turning point in music, establishing new patterns of composition that greatly influenced those who followed. As Keith Anderson, author of “The A-Z of Classical Music,” explains: “The string quartet looks forward in many ways to the musical language that Debussy was to develop as entirely his own, characteristic in its use of modal and whole-tone scales, in its subtle harmonies and texture and in its clarity of form.”

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.

Pianist Chiharu Naruse and violist Kimberly Lehmann are the featured artists as the 2017-2018 Faculty Concert Series opens this Friday at the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

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