Out & About: Seasonal shift in music, theater

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Early June marks the finales of the fall-winter-spring programs at a few of southern Maine’s arts producers and presenters, and simultaneously represents the start of the summer season at some others. This week’s pick of the tix reflects that seasonal shift.

Portland Symphony Orchestra wraps up the inaugural season of maestro Robert Moody on June 9 in a concert that features classical music with a distinctly different cultural twist: Four Senegalese drummers will appear as guest artists.

The DaPonte String Quartet wraps up its five-part season with a program presented on Friday in Newcastle, Saturday in Portland and Sunday in Brunswick.

Ogunquit Playhouse, which calls itself “Broadway on the Beach,” opened its 2009 season with an outstanding production of one of the Great White Way’s all-time box office attractions: “A Chorus Line.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra

When the Portland Symphony Orchestra was casting about in search of a new music director, a key objective was finding a dynamic maestro with broad experience in exciting contemporary music that can attract new audiences.

Over the course of his first year on the PSO’s podium, Robert Moody has proved to be a dynamic maestro, and the final concert of his inaugural season represents a tour de force of 21st-century cross-cultural composition. The featured work on June 9 is James DeMars’ “Sabar: Concerto for Senegalese Drums and Orchestra,” which had its world premiere in 2001 with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra under Moody’s direction.

Four Senegalese drummers plus a team of dancers will join the orchestra’s more traditional instrumentalists. A critic in Phoenix lauded the concerto as a “sonic travelogue,” while the composer himself commented that he wrote it “for the purpose of creating a work that would integrate the musicians of two cultures to celebrate a new millennium.”

The second piece on Tuesday’s program is a tour de force of the 20th-century: Bela Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra.” Bartok was one of the most innovative composers of the 1900s, and this concerto represents his attempt to integrate elements of European folk music with classical music’s more highbrow traditions – an objective that neatly anticipates the vision and objectives of DeMars and Moody. Bartok described his work as a concerto (rather than a symphony) because each section of instruments is treated in a soloistic and virtuosic way.

In keeping with the objective of extending the PSO’s reach to non-traditional audiences, Moody has also programmed three collateral events. On Saturday he’ll speak at Portland’s Museum of African Culture, and one of the guest artists, Mark Sunkett, will offer instrument demonstrations and talk about Senegalese drumming. Chief Oscar Mokeme, founder and director of the museum, will discuss the country and culture of Senegal, a former French colony that celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence next year. This event is open to the public.

Students at King Middle School, Portland’s most demographically diverse, will enjoy a “Meet the Maestro/Meet the Musicians” presentation and demonstration on Monday, and students from all over southern Maine will attend the PSO’s dress rehearsal that evening.

The formal concert itself, titled “Rites and Rhythms,” is slated for 7:30 p.m. June 9 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800. “Musically Speaking” takes place at 4:30 p.m. June 6 at the Museum of African Culture, 13 Brown St. in Portland.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet wraps up its 2008-2009 season this weekend with a program that juxtaposes new and old works. The DaPontes are also marking a first season with new personnel: violist Kirsten Monke joined the foursome back in November. She joins violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes plus cellist Myles Jordan.

The DaPonte String Quartet formed in the early 1990s in Philadelphia. After moving to Maine in the mid-1990s, they quickly became one of the state’s major cultural forces, playing traditional compositions at the highest level and introducing contemporary music to Maine audiences.

This weekend’s program represents three periods of music. Traditional string quartets by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Claude Debussy will sandwich a very modern work by contemporary English composer Thomas Ades.

Catch the DaPonte String Quartet at 7:30 p.m. June 5 at St. Patrick’s Church in Newcastle, 2 p.m. June 6 at State Street Church in Portland and 3 p.m. at United Methodist Church in Brunswick. Call 529-4555.

‘A Chorus Line’

Backstage dramas and shows centered on theatrical themes are so numerous that they almost comprise a sub-genre of the Broadway canon. And one of the best ever written is “A Chorus Line,” the 1975 smash hit that played on Broadway for 16 years and set a new record for longest run.

This box-office blockbuster and 10-time Tony Award-winner gives voice to the hopes, dreams and frustrations of Broadway’s (mostly anonymous) dancers, and last week Ogunquit Playhouse triumphantly high-stepped into its 2009 summer season with an outstanding fully professional and profoundly moving production.

Like many shows from the 1970s, “A Chorus Line” has been labeled a “concept musical,” an alternative form of theatrical architecture in which the traditional romantic story arc is replaced by a clever dramatic conceit or special situation. The action in “A Chorus Line” takes place in a New York studio; over the course of a few hours, about 20 hopeful hoofers audition for the director of an upcoming Broadway show.

As they strut their stuff for the director, they relate their stories, and “A Chorus Line” is woven from the fabric of their past experiences and future dreams. This novel concept was developed by Michael Bennett, the show’s original choreographer and director. The script was written by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, while Marvin Hamlisch composed the music and Edward Kleban penned the lyrics.

Interestingly, despite lacking the traditional dramatic arc, “A Chorus Line” perfectly follows the “three unities” of Classical Greek drama – time, place and action.

“A Chorus Line” packs an emotional punch, which mostly derives from an array of tensions created by broken homes, traumatic happenings in school and awkward experiences with first jobs and first loves.

There’s no traditional romantic pairing in this show, but sexual sparks fly – mostly in retrospect – between director Zach, played by Lorenzo Lamas, and ex-girlfriend Cassie, played by Nadine Isenegger. Lamas is a television heartthrob who’s successfully establishing his live stage credentials at Ogunquit; he’s paired with Isenegger, an actress and dancer with impressive Broadway and national touring credits. Isenegger has played this role on Broadway and understands all the nuances of her difficult character.

Catch “A Chorus Line” at Ogunquit Playhouse (Route 1 about a mile south of the village) through June 13. Call 646-5511.

Sidebar Elements

pnms-outabout-060309.jpgFour Senegalese drummers will perform as the guests of the Portland Symphony Orchestra in its June 9 seasonal finale.