We’re in the waning weeks of the summer season, at least as far as the performing arts calendar goes, and two stalwart producers bow out this weekend.
On Saturday, the Portland Chamber Music Festival will play its 2014 coda in a concert that features a new work by a Maine composer.
In Brunswick, Maine State Music Theatre marks its seasonal denouement with “Footloose,” the stage version of the 1998 musical film. MSMT’s production, which runs through Saturday, is built around high-energy dance, and it’s playing to sold-out audiences.
This summer also marks the 100th anniversary of the first days of World War I, and the DaPonte String Quartet will commemorate that epic conflict with an Aug. 25 concert in Lewiston.
Each summer there are about half a dozen classical music festivals within an hour’s drive of Portland. Last on the calendar is the Portland Chamber Music Festival, now in its 21st season. This Saturday the 2014 PCMF season closes with a concert that features a new work by a Maine composer.
Artistic director Jenny Elowitch has programmed three pieces for the evening, dating from the 18th, 19th and 21st centuries. The concert opener will be the earliest, Antonio Vivaldi’s Trio Sonata for two violins, cello and harpsichord, while Johannes Brahms’ Sextet No. 2, an epitome of 19th-century musical aesthetics, will close the program.
In between will be “Twenty-Three Skidoo,” a contemporary work scored for clarinet, viola and piano that was written by a 2013 graduate of the University of Southern Maine School of Music.
“We’ve held an International Composers Competition for many years that attracts applicants from many countries,” Elowitch explained. “Since the competition is anonymous, we never know who has entered until after the judging is complete. This time around, it was such a fun shock to find that the winner was someone local. Josh Newton is a USM graduate and lives here now. His piece is lighthearted, clever and very well crafted. We’re really looking forward to the opportunity to introduce it to a big audience.”
At USM, Newton studied with composition professor Dan Sonnenberg. Now living in Farmingdale, Newton is a rising star in classical music. His creations have been played by the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the ETHEL String Quartet and Da Capo Chamber Players. He also writes scholarly treatises on historic composers. This year is the first time in the history of the festival that a Mainer has won the PCMF composition competition.
Saturday’s concert will be hosted by Suzanne Nance, a conservatory-trained opera singer and former music director at Maine Public Broadcasting Network.
Catch the final concert of the 2014 Portland Chamber Music Festival at 8 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 800-320-0257.
For the last two shows of its 2014 season, Maine State Music Theatre has hired Patti Colombo as director/choreographer. Boasting impeccable Broadway and national credentials, Colombo’s forte is high-energy dancing, which was recently prominent in MSMT’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and is especially notable in the current show, “Footloose.”
Closely based on the 1984 musical film of the same name, “Footloose” is a big Broadway tuner that revolves around a theme of intergenerational conflict. Tom Snow wrote most of the music, while the book and lyrics were written by several people, with Dean Pitchford having the biggest share.
The plot is classical in construction: A newcomer arrives in town and shakes things up. Here the town is a small Midwestern farm community and the newcomer, Ren, is a teenager from Chicago who loves to dance. Unfortunately, the town has an ordinance the prohibits all dancing, passed at the urging of a fundamentalist preacher.
The conflict is intensified when Ren falls in love with Ariel, the preacher’s rebellious daughter. Ren, Ariel and the town’s teens start a campaign to change the law and organize a dance. The resulting conflict intensifies as the confrontation with the preacher exposes rifts with his wife.
Being a Broadway musical, it’s fairly predictable that everything is satisfactorily worked out in the end, and as the curtain falls, everybody is happily dancing.
MSMT’s two leads are wonderful. Eric Sciotto has magnetism and stage presence depicting the rebellious teen from away, while Kristen Martin projects the character of the preacher’s defiant daughter. In supporting roles, I am equally enthusiastic about David Ruprecht as the man of the cloth and Heidi Kettenring as his wife.
Other supporting roles are also well cast. I especially liked Charis Leos as Ren’s mother, Timothy Hughes as Ren’s slow-witted sidekick and Cary Michelle Miller as his very excitable wannabe girlfriend.
Maine State Music Theatre presents “Footloose” through Aug. 23 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.
One hundred years ago this summer, World War I was breaking out in Europe; it was the first of the 20th century’s mammoth global conflicts.
The Midcoast-based DaPonte String Quartet is marking the occasion with a commemorative concert at Bates College in Lewiston on Monday, Aug. 25. Guest pianist will be George Lopez, a Bowdoin College music professor.
The program is titled “Culture and Catastrophe.” Four composers, from countries on opposite sides of the conflict, are represented. Frank Bridge and Edward Elgar were English and Claude Debussy was French, while the Central Powers are represented by Zoltan Kodaly, a Hungarian.
Debussy was (and remains) the best-known of the four. Representing French culture at its apex, Debussy died of cancer during the war. DSQ violist Kirsten Monke notes that the 1917 Violin Sonata on the program is Debussy’s last completed work. “The piece is at once fantastical and melancholic,” commented Monke. “The two voices of the violin and piano seem to tug and pull almost in argument, rather than obediently accompany one another.”
Monke also offers this on the second major work on the program, Elgar’s Piano Quartet in A Minor. “The Elgar is a fantastic piece, written in 1918-1919,” explained Monke. “It’s not often played, but should be. It seems more of a Romantic work than modern, very nostalgic in character. It’s interesting that at the end of the war, Elgar retreats to the countryside, having lost dear friends and in very poor health. He focuses on nothing but chamber music, and it seems to be a deeply personal expression.”
The DaPonte String Quartet presents “Culture and Catastrophe” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at the Olin Arts Center 75 Russell St. on the Bates College campus in Lewiston. Call 529-4555.
High-energy dance is the cornerstone of Maine State Music Theatre’s production of “Footloose,” which runs through Aug. 23 in Brunswick.