Out & About: Symphony orchestras, 2 music festivals

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A busy weekend for music lovers is coming up Oct. 23-25, with two symphony orchestras playing two concerts apiece, plus two music festivals also crowding the calendar.

The tunes and lyrics of John Denver will be spotlighted when the Portland Symphony launches its 2015-2016 Pops Series under the baton of assistant conductor Norman Huynh on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

The Midcoast Symphony, under the baton of maestro Rohan Smith, will open its 2015-2016 season with a classical program that plays in Lewiston on Saturday and repeats in Topsham on Sunday.

Two music festivals are also slated for Portland this weekend. The Portland Early Music Festival, a production of the Portland Conservatory of Music, runs Friday through Sunday at its Woodford’s location. The Saltwater Celtic Music Festival is a whirlwind of concerts, all slated for Friday evening in several downtown Portland venues.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

One of the most distinctive and popular singer-songwriters of the 1970s will be the focus of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s first pops concerts of 2015-2016. Vocalist Mike Eldred will lead a small team of guest artists in “A Tribute to John Denver,” which will be performed twice this weekend under the baton of assistant conductor Norman Huynh.

John Denver was the adopted surname of Henry John Deutschendorf, who grew up in a military family, learned to play guitar at age 11 and began writing and performing in public when he was in college. (He also adopted Colorado as his home state, living and skiing in Aspen for much of his life.)

The big break in Denver’s career happened at age 25 when his “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart. Over the next decade, Denver went on to write, sing and record several hundred songs, selling a lifetime total of 33 million.

His many honors include awards from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (two Grammys), plus he’s an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Mike Eldred is the PSO’s guest singer, a tenor whose experience ranges from Italian grand opera to Broadway to nightclubs. Inspired by Denver’s music, Eldred recently released a compilation of his songs on a CD titled “Come Love Me Again.” Other guest artists include singer Susie Pepper plus a small backup band of guitar, piano, bass and drums. Both Eldred and Pepper have performed on PSO pops programs before.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “A Tribute to John Denver” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 25. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

The Brunswick-based Midcoast Symphony Orchestra launches its four-concert 2015-2016 season this weekend with two performances of a program of classical favorites.

Titled “Music of the Masters,” maestro Rohan Smith’s program comprises Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s overture to the “The Magic Flute,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

The “Magic Flute” overture is one of the most popular short pieces in the symphonic literature. The Haydn symphony, one of the last written by this towering figure from Austria, was composed during a visit to London at the high of his fame. He intended this symphony to be an all-inclusive valedictory.

Mary Hunter, the Bowdoin College music professor and violinist who writes the MSO’s program notes, comments: “It is quite moving to think of Haydn the Austrian visitor literally pouring his whole world into his last symphony for this important city. He said before going to London that his (musical) language was understood all over the world, and this symphony seems to want to prove that very point.”

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra presents “Music of the Masters” twice this weekend: Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Franco-American Heritage Center, 46 Cedar St. in Lewiston, and 2:30 p.m. at the Orion Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call the MSO at 371-2028.

Portland Early Music Festival

Music of the 17th and 18th centuries in three European countries will be featured over a three-day span this weekend at the Portland Early Music Festival. Now in its fourth year, the festival is produced and hosted by the Portland Conservatory of Music and features a number of its faculty members.

Friday’s theme will be English and Italian songs of the period 1600-1800. Featured composers include Giovanni Coprario, Barbara Strozzi, Henry Purcell and William Boyce.

Saturday’s program focuses on music of Saxony (part of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire at the time) in the 1700s. The leading composer was Johann Sebastian Bach, but this concert highlights works of Bach’s contemporaries.

Sunday’s program is mostly devoted to Bach himself. No composer in history occupies a more exalted niche in the musical pantheon than Bach.

Featured artists include Gavin Black, harpsichord; Timothy Burris, lute and theorbo; Timothy Neill Johnson, tenor; Charles Kaufmann, bassoon; Emily Marvosh, contralto; Joelle Morris, mezzo-soprano; Heidi Powell, violin; and Raffael Scheck, cello.

All concerts are slated for the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. The Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 concerts are at 7:30 p.m. and the Oct. 25 concert is at 4 p.m. Call 775-3356.

Saltwater Celtic Music Festival

Friday will be a busy evening for aficionados of Irish and Scottish music in Portland, as the Saltwater Celtic Music Festival kicks off its fifth year. Established as a midsummer event in 2011, the festival moved to Portland in October for its 2014 and subsequent editions.

Four venues will host nine acts, ranging from solo performers to large ensembles. Top billing goes to the Screaming Orphans, a Celtic-punk quartet comprising four sisters who grew up in Ireland and now live in New York. Prydein, hailing from Burlington, Vermont, bill themselves as bagpipe-rock, and they normally perform in kilts. The Press Gang is a Maine-based trio that blends their skill and fluency in traditional Irish music with a curiosity and aptitude for other styles.

Other featured acts include Boghat, Katie McNally, Robbie O’Connell, Ozere, Dave Rowe and Trad Gang.

Three of the venues are on Congress Street: Blue, One Longfellow Square and Port City Music Hall. Bull Feeney’s, which hosts Dave Rowe, is a fixture of the Old Port. One ticket includes all performances at all venues, but since they’re scheduled more or less simutaneously, some hard choices will be necessary. For details, visit saltwaterfest.com.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will launch its 2015-2016 season with two concerts Oct. 24-25, in Lewiston on Saturday and Topsham on Sunday.