Out & About: Saltwater Music Festival moves to Portland

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Portland has a new music festival, and it’s debuting this weekend. Maine’s Celtic heritage will be showcased as the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival moves into downtown Portland for three days of performances in multiple venues.

First Fridays normally focus on the visual arts, but on Oct. 3 two of the Port City’s premier performing arts organizations will participate. At Portland City Hall, Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ plan tours and demos of the massive 50-ton instrument, while Portland Ovations will borrow the Victoria Mansion for the evening and bring in a contemporary chamber orchestra to perform.

“Les Miserables,” the epic Broadway music based on the celebrated Victor Hugo novel, lives on in South Portland. A fine community production by Portland Players runs through the next three weekends.

Saltwater Celtic Music Festival

Music of Ireland and Scotland will be performed by a dozen different artists at seven venues this weekend as the Saltwater Music Festival relocates from Brunswick to downtown Portland.

Formerly sited at a seaside venue in Brunswick in midsummer, the festival is reinventing itself for 2014.

Beginning Oct. 3, as part of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, and continuing through Sunday, organizers have booked a host of musicians, ranging from international stars to local acts, who will celebrate Maine’s Celtic heritage.

Six indoor venues have been chosen: the Maine Irish Heritage Center, Port City Music Hall, One Longfellow Square, Acoustic Artisans, Brian Boru and Bull Feeney’s. Outdoor performances are slated for Congress Square.

Celtic fiddlers predominate. Top billing goes to an international band that has performed in Portland several times before: Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul. Ivers is a globetrotting artist who has won the All-Ireland Fiddle Championship nine times and also has a Grammy Award on her shelf. She’s backed by Immigrant Soul, a four-man band.

Another top international act is the Mari Black Trio. Black is the reigning National Scottish Fiddle Champion. She covers a lot of artistic ground, ranging from ethnic to classical and jazz.

Other bands and solo artists include the Gothard Sisters, Fodhla, Aout Gris, Press Gang, Ashley Davis, Pubcrawlers, Prodigals, Dave Rowe and the John Byrne Band. A bunch of regulars from the weekly Irish music night at Port City Blue will also perform, led by Tom Rota. Visual artist Michael Shaughnessy and storytellers Joe Keane and Kevin O’Hara will also participate.

For ticket information, complete schedule and performer info, please visit saltwaterfest.com.

Portland Ovations

Metropolis Ensemble is a New York-based chamber orchestra, founded and led by Maine native Andrew Cyr, and dedicated to groundbreaking electro-acoustic performances of contemporary music that expand classical traditions and touch new audiences.

Metropolis Ensemble’s latest show is titled “Brownstone,” and what better place to perform it than the Victoria Mansion, Portland’s magnificent 19th-century Italianate edifice?

That’s the big idea behind Portland Ovations’ first offering of the 2014-2015 season. Metropolis Ensemble performers will be placed in different locations in the big building, and as visitors meander through the rooms and stairways of the mansion, they will experience an ever-changing sonic tapestry.

Victoria Mansion is at 109 Danforth St. in Portland. Metropolis Ensemble will perform “Brownstone” three times on Friday. First is a ticketed preview and reception at 5:30 p.m. Two free shows, at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., will follow as part of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk. For tickets and reservations, call PortTix at 842-0800.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ

Portland’s magnificent Kotzschmar Memorial Organ made its triumphal return last week, following two years of restoration and refurbishing. This Friday, Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, the city-owned instrument’s non-profit support group, will resume its tradition of public tours and demos.

I took a tour a few years ago, before the restoration program was started. The sheer size of the instrument is astonishing. Among the statistics cited by FOKO, its volume in cubic feet is equal to 66 mini-vans — certainly a curious way of illustrating the size. The Kotzschmar boasts 6,618 pipes and about 100 miles of electrical wiring. The main wind box is large enough to hold an intimate dinner party.

The Kotzschmar Memorial Organ is located in Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. FOKO will offer free tours and demonstrations from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., part of Portland’s First Friday Art Walk.

‘Les Miserables’

“Les Miserables” is more than a stage musical; it’s an epic opera that spans nearly two decades in time and the entire gamut of human emotions. With book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, music by Schonberg and lyrics by Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, “Les Miserables” has become an enduring masterpiece of the musical stage.

Based on the famous French classic novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” debuted on the Paris stage in 1981 and later moved on (with English translation) to London and New York, where it won eight Tony Awards, including the coveted “triple crown”: Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical. It has been performed more than 7,100 times on Broadway.

Portland Players, Maine’s oldest community theater company, has picked “Les Miserables” to open its 84th anniversary season. It’s an incredibly ambitious undertaking, and the company mostly succeeds.

Set in the early 1800s in France, the plot follows paroled convict Jean Valjean (Zach Handlen) as he redeems himself in the eyes of society, but can never free himself from the vengeful pursuit of Inspector Javert (Mark Dils), who is determined to destroy former prisoner No. 24601.

“Les Miserables” opens at a prison in 1815 and the drama concludes a few years after the Revolution of 1832, when college students erected barricades in the streets of Paris and unsuccessfully battled the French National Guard.

Sub-plots involving three young women (Michelle Melvin-Perry, Rachel Henry and Brie Roche) and two young men (David Van Duyne and Schuyler White) are intertwined throughout the Valjean-Javert drama, plus there’s a comic couple (Jason Phillips and Sarah Thurston) with a few hilarious scenes.

Acting and direction (Michael Donovan, stage, and David Delano, music) are superb, with the nod for top actor going to Dils as the relentless Inspector Javert. The honors for best voice go to Henry, playing the show’s principal romantic interest.

I also appreciated the spectacularly large and appropriately dismal two-tiered set by Tim Baker, which nicely frames this sprawling epic of musical theater.

Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Les Miserables” through Oct. 19 with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-7337.

Sidebar Elements

Scottish fiddler Mari Black will be one of many artists performing this weekend as the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival reorganizes and relocates to downtown Portland.