Out & About: Richard Thompson plus Valentine concerts

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Several outstanding concerts are slated for greater Portland this weekend.

First up is Richard Thompson, a British singer-songwriter who’s been a major force on the world’s folk-rock scene since 1967. He’ll play in Westbrook on Friday evening.

Sunday is Valentine’s Day, and two programs are slated to celebrate the occasion. Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of assistant conductor Norman Huyhn, will morph into Pops mode on Saturday and Sunday with a Valentine’s program titled “Portland in Love.” Musical selections will span a range from pop artists such as Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston to light classical pieces by Georges Bizet and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

In what’s becoming a tradition in southern Maine, classical pianist Laura Kargul and violinist Ron Lantz will team up for a Valentine’s concert. For 2016 Kargul and Lantz will feature a north-south cultural contrast.

Richard Thompson

Over a professional career that spans 50 years, British singer-songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson has accumulated many awards and honors. Among the most recent is Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an honor bestowed by Queen Elizabeth five years ago to recognize Thompson’s unique and longstanding position at the top of England’s folk-rock movement.

Although most of his many awards recognize his songwriting talents, Rolling Stone has also recognized Thompson’s prowess on the guitar, naming him one of the top 20 guitarists of all time.

I attended Thompson’s last concert in Maine a few years ago, and I’ll be in the audience this Friday when he holds forth in Westbrook.

With 25 major albums to his name, including one per year since 2012, Thompson has accumulated some serious cred in the music business. My personal favorite song of his is “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a tragic ballad about James, a petty criminal with a penchant for trouble who owns the iconic motorcycle, and his girlfriend, Red Molly.

Dave McLaughlin’s Heptunes presents Richard Thompson, with guest Joyce Andersen, a fiddler who lives in York, at 8 p.m. Feb. 12 at Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater St. Visit HeptunesConcerts.com.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Love is the subject of countless songs in all genres, which makes Valentine’s Day especially important to symphony orchestras, which morph into pops mode and explore the vast repertoire of popular love songs.

That’s a quick summary of this weekend’s two concerts by the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Titled “Portland in Love,” the program will span multiple genres, from a classical operatic aria to popular favorites.

Taking the podium will be Norman Huynh (pronounced “When”), who is now in his second year as the PSO’s assistant conductor and director of community outreach. Huynh earned his undergraduate degree in music education from the University of Alabama and a master’s degree in conducting from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.

Two of Huynh’s selections are classical. There’s a passionate aria from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” the most popular opera ever written, plus the PSO will play excerpts from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s suite from “Romeo and Juliet.”

There are 14 selections on the popular side. These trend toward R&B and Soul from the 1960s through the present. Examples include “What About My Love” (Johnnie Taylor), “Unforgettable” (Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole), “For Once in My Life” (Stevie Wonder), “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King), “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston) and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell).

A pair of Maine singers, Lyle Divinsky and Sara Hallie Richardson, will provide the vocal power for both concerts. Divinsky, a ballad-loving, big-voiced Mainer has appeared throughout New England, pouring his soul into each performance. Richardson is known for her folk, indie and electronic style originals. Both are involved with the Maine Youth Rock Orchestra.

Catch the PSO’s “Portland in Love” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 and 2:30 p.m. Feb. 14. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Laura Kargul and Ron Lantz

Six years ago, a new tradition was born when classical pianist Laura Kargul teamed up with violinist Ron Lantz in a concert devoted to German Romantic composers.

Kargul has been professor of piano studies at the University of Southern Maine School of Music for more than a quarter century. Lantz is a founding member of the Portland String Quartet, which has been a mainstay of our state’s music scene since 1969.

The response to that first joint outing led to an ongoing collaboration, which includes an annual Valentine’s Day concert.

This year’s program will transport listeners from the fjords of Scandinavia to the south of France, the beaches of Jamaica and the pampas of Argentina. Selections include Edvard Grieg’s Sonata No. 3 in C Minor for Violin and Piano, a Nocturne by Jean Sibelius and works by Christian Sinding, Joseph Canteloube, Peter Ashbourne and Astor Piazzolla.

“When selecting the program for our Valentine’s Day concerts we try to mix some well-known works with others that will be completely fresh and new for the audience,” says Kargul. “And, of course, everything must be suited to the sentiment of the holiday.”

Kargul adds, “The Grieg Sonata in C Minor, for example, is one of the most popular and beloved violin masterpieces of the 19th century. It is a powerful piece that combines high drama with that poignant, nostalgic quality we so often associate with Grieg. This sonata anchors the first half of the program, which is darkly, passionately romantic.”

Lantz comments: “As we travel towards the southern hemisphere in the second half of the program, the mood lightens considerably. We have found some gems of rarely performed repertoire. An example is Canteloube’s ‘Le Soir,’ from his violin suite, ‘Dans la Montagne,’ one of the most evocative and poetic works to come out of the French romantic era. Few people have ever heard this gorgeous piece.”

The duo will also perform two arrangements of Jamaican folk songs, written by Jamaican composer Peter Ashbourne. “Peter is a remarkably gifted classically trained musician with a career that encompasses just about every genre of music, including jazz, pop and commercial music,” says Kargul.

The final works will be a pair of tangos by Piazzolla, a 20th-century Argentinean composer who was best known for elevating the sensual national dance into a serious musical art form.

The concert, jointly presented by the USM School of Music and the Portland String Quartet, is slated for 2 p.m. Feb. 14 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call 780-5555 or 761-1522.

Classical pianist Laura Kargul, left, and violinist Ron Lantz will present a concert of Romantic masterpieces from northern and southern Europe on Sunday.

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