Out & About: Symphonic favorites mark maestro’s penultimate program

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The Portland Symphony Orchestra has planned a pair of “gateways” to classical music for its next pair of concerts.

This Sunday and Tuesday the PSO will perform maestro Robert Moody’s penultimate program, which includes Johannes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” and Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” two wonderfully accessible pieces that have hooked generations of classical music aficionados.

The Portland Conservatory of Music has slated a showcase for its classical faculty musicians on Sunday to raise money for student scholarships. The program will feature 12 faculty members performing individual and group pieces.

A pair of long-running Maine acts are featured on consecutive evenings this weekend at Portland’s One Longfellow Square. Veteran folkie David Mallett appears on Friday, followed by Inanna Sisters in Rhythm on Saturday.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Robert Moody’s 10-year tenure as music director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra is rapidly drawing to a close, and his penultimate program will be performed this Sunday and repeated on Tuesday. I expect this to be one of my favorites; it includes three pieces that I have loved for decades plus one that’s totally new to me.

Johannes Brahms’ “Academic Festival Overture” is one of the most popular and accessible pieces in the classical canon. Its principal melodic themes are based on 19th-century drinking songs in German universities, and they’re presented with their inherent raucous energy, contained within a majestic symphonic setting.

Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto is a lushly melodic piece that seems to defy its 20th-century American provenance. The soloist will be Charles Dimmick, the PSO’s longtime first violinist and concertmaster.

Mason Bates’ “Alternative Energy” is a contemporary work, penned by a longtime personal friend of Moody. According to Bates’ own description, his piece is “an ‘energy symphony’ spanning four movements and hundreds of years. Beginning in a rustic Midwestern junkyard in the late 19th century, the piece travels through ever greater and more powerful forces of energy – a present-day particle collider, a futuristic Chinese nuclear plant – until it reaches a future Icelandic rainforest, where humanity’s last inhabitants seek a return to a simpler way of life.”

The finale will be Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero,” a tour-de-force of hypnotic and insistent rhythm, characterized by 17 minutes of slow, relentless crescendo. It’s sometimes considered a gimmick, but “Bolero” has been an audience favorite since it debuted in 1930.

Two performances are slated for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Feb. 11 at 2:30 p.m. and Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Conservatory of Music

Since 1995, the Portland Conservatory of Music has offered instruction and performance opportunities to children and adults of all abilities, from beginner to advanced. A faculty of Maine’s top professional performers and pedagogues, including three members of the Portland String Quartet, teach a total of 30 instruments.

As classes resume after the long midwinter break, PCM is offering a showcase performance this Sunday. Twelve faculty members will present an afternoon sampler of classical and art music both solo and ensemble. The styles of the works range from 18th-century Vienna to present-day America, including two faculty composers: Harold Stover and Jesse Feinberg.

The concert is slated for 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. Call PCM at 775-3356.

David Mallett

This past weekend we passed the astronomical midpoint of winter, so naturally many people are beginning to think about warm weather and green gardens.

No Maine singer-songwriter can claim greener credentials than David Mallett, who lives on a 200-acre farm in Sebec that has been in his family for decades and has crafted an entire career by writing and singing about rural people, lifestyle and values.

Mallett was a singer from an early age, and once performed as a teenage country duo with his brother. Singing his own material marked a turning point that began when Mallett was a student at the University of Maine, where he first studied as a theater major. Listening to the songs of the folk revival, he realized that most of the top folk singers of that era – Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Phil Ochs and others – specialized in original material. Voicing his own words was much more satisfying than performing a playwright’s script, Mallett thought, and his artistic aspirations veered towards songwriting.

Mallett’s lifetime opus is filled with evocative imagery and a sense of the ineluctable passage of time. The struggle of the common man and the loss of America’s small towns and rural landscapes are frequently heard themes.

Although Mallett has recorded a total of 14 albums since the 1970s, he’s best known for one song that was propelled to widespread fame when covered by Pete Seeger and John Denver, and learned by millions of schoolchildren. “The Garden Song” begins with a memorable quatrain sung to a simple lilting melody: “Inch by inch, row by row/Gonna make this garden grow/All it takes is a rake and a hoe/And a piece of fertile ground.”

Mallett’s most recent recording is titled “Greenin’ Up,” and it was released four years ago in partnership with the Maine Farmland Trust. Billed as “a celebration of rural life,” it includes a re-recording of “Garden Song” as well as several others from his past plus three new ones: “Fat of the Land,” “Dogs & Horses” and “Beautiful Rose.”

Catch David Mallett, backed by a full band, at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Inanna Sisters in Rhythm

In 1989 a group of women from southern Maine were enrolled in an African drumming class in the Midcoast town of Alna. Finding themselves captivated by the rhythms and the wide variety of instruments available, they decided to form a drumming ensemble. They named their group after Inanna, an ancient Sumerian goddess who reigned in a civilization where drummers were women.

I encountered Inanna Sisters in Rhythm at a summer music festival a couple of years later. I too was captivated by the concept of an all-female drumming ensemble – and dazzled by their colorful, flowing costumes – but I doubted that the gimmick would endure more than a few seasons.

I was certainly wrong on that point. Twenty-nine years later, Inanna Sisters in Rhythm have become a mainstay of our state’s culture, appearing to perform and teach at festivals around the state and around the world.

This Saturday, Feb. 10, they’re booked for an 8 p.m. concert at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Inanna Sisters in Rhythm is a trio of Maine percussionists who have been pounding an innovative and insistent drumbeat for two decades. Inanna appears Saturday, Feb. 10, at One Longfellow Square in Portland.