With the Fourth of July behind us, there’s no question that the summer schedule of performing arts is now in full swing in all corners of southern Maine. Among the major items this week, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival gets underway with a concert that features two big works by two of the biggest names in classical music: Franz Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.
July is the month for PORTopera, and the company’s Young Artists Program has slated three performances of “Trouble in Tahiti,” a one-act in English written by Leonard Bernstein.
Country singer and multi-instrumentalist Don Campbell is a native of Scarborough who now lives in Nashville. Every summer he returns to home turf for a number of concerts. This Saturday he’s playing a program featuring the gentle melodies and thoughtful lyrics of Dan Fogelberg.
For the past 42 years, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival has been a pillar of Maine’s cultural life, presenting top-tier chamber music in a profoundly rural setting. The performers are professional musicians who are drawn from symphony orchestras around the U.S. Programming tends toward the traditional, with an emphasis on mixing strings, piano and winds.
I’ve been a regular festival concert-goer for the past 15 years, and I always look forward to its musical programs and its artists, most of whom are familiar faces who return year after year.
For the past 30 years the festival been under the directorship of Laurie Kennedy, who also well known as the longtime first violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Kennedy has announced that 2015 will be her final season as artistic director, and she’s planned a five-concert program that’s worthy of a classical coda. The season opens July 14 with an artistic bill of fare that features major works by two of the composers who defined the genre of chamber music.
In the second half of the 18th century, Franz Joseph Haydn wrote 83 string quartets, works that elevated the form from its simple and undeveloped antecedents to the lofty position it holds today. His beautiful F-Major quartet, nicknamed “Dream,” is part of a set of six that formed a milestone near the midpoint of Haydn’s career.
The concluding work will be Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Trio No.1, nicknamed “Ghost” by an early listener who remarked that the mysterious mood of the slow movement reminded him of the ghost of Hamlet. Just as Haydn set the standard for the string quartet, Beethoven defined the piano trio.
Last year the festival announced a scheme to present the entire set of 12 Beethoven piano trios. This season marks the midpoint of that effort.
A very beautiful, if lesser-known piece occupies the middle of the program, a quintet for clarinet and strings by Max Reger. An unabashed Romantic, Reger drew inspiration from his fellow composers and their predecessors to create his own unique musical universe.
The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival is hosted by Deertrees Theatre, a picture-perfect wooden opera house in a sylvan setting on a hillside above Harrison village. Boasting superb acoustics, Deertrees was constructed in 1936 using hemlock trees that were harvested on the site; today it is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The five-concert season runs every Tuesday, July 14-Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747 or visit sebagomusicfestival.org.
Since 1994, PORTopera has been the Port City’s resident opera company, presenting two productions per summer. This year’s principal title will be Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” slated for July 30 in Merrill Auditorium.
Nearly every year, the company’s Young Artists Program stages a smaller opera in a variety of smaller venues. This year’s choice is “Trouble in Tahiti,” a one-act that was written by Leonard Bernstein, an American composer who was born in Massachusetts and worked there for several years during the 1950s.
It was the decade that Bernstein – who excelled in numerous genres – enjoyed immense popular, critical and financial success. In this modest opera, which premiered in 1952 in Waltham, Mass., Tahiti is used as an ironic metaphor for American suburbia, and Bernstein clearly expresses his cultural disaffection.
“Trouble in Tahiti” is the story of a married couple, Sam and Dinah. Despite the gilded cheeriness of the time, Sam and Dinah endure loveless lives of not-so-quiet desperation. Bernstein’s score echoes the sonic vernacular of the 1950s with a remix of softened bebop, cool jazz, Mitch Miller pop, television themes, radio commercials and Broadway songs.
PORTopera’s Young Artists are aspiring professionals, drawn from university and conservatory opera programs. They typically perform small roles in each year’s principal production plus they star in the smaller one. “Trouble in Tahiti” has a cast of five, directed by Richard Gammon, who is returning from last season. Accompanist will be Timothy Steele, who teaches opera at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Three performances of “Trouble in Tahiti” are planned: July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. in Portland; July 18 at 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison, and July 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Temple, 14 Temple Ave. in Ocean Park (Old Orchard Beach). Call 775-5568 (Portland), 583-6747 (Harrison) or 934-9068 (Ocean Park).
Don Campbell is an immensely talented singer-songwriter whom I first met in the mid-1990s when he was just getting his foothold in the music business. For most of the past two decades, he’s been living in Nashville and performing all over the U.S.
Each summer he returns to home turf to visit his legion of friends and family and perform a number of concerts. The most intriguing in my opinion is coming up this Saturday, when Campbell will perform an entire show that’s dedicated to the memory and music of the late Dan Fogelberg, a singer-songwriter who was known for gentle melodies and thoughtful lyrics.
Fogelberg, who died in 2007, was a multi-platinum recording artist whose heyday was the 1970s and 1980s. He’s best remembered for “Part of the Plan,” “Leader of the Band” and “Same Old Lang Syne.” With the blessing of the Dan Fogelberg estate, Campbell has been performing and recording this music for the past three years and has released a double CD.
Don Campbell plays Dan Fogelberg at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. July 11. Call 761-1757.
Laurie Kennedy is the artistic director of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, which launches its five-week season of classical music concerts on July 14 at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison.