Out & About: Symphony orchestras, dance showcase

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Mid-January is the time when performing arts producers emerge from their Christmas-New Year slowdowns and enter the busiest part of their calendars. That’s certainly in evidence this coming week.

Two symphony orchestras have a pair of concerts apiece. The Portland Symphony has scheduled its third offering of the 2014-2015 classical subscription season on Jan. 25, with the same program repeating Jan. 27. Under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, the PSO will launch a three-season complete cycle of the nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Midcoast Symphony Orchestra will offer an all-American program, featuring two New England composers, on Jan. 24 and 25 in Lewiston and Topsham, respectively.

Maine State Ballet has an intriguing offering coming up this weekend with three performances in Falmouth. “Tap, Tap, Jazz” is a potpourri of modern dances, performed by faculty and students of MSB’s school.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

About a year ago, Portland Symphony Orchestra music director Robert Moody announced an ambitious undertaking. Over the course of three seasons, the PSO would perform all nine symphonies composed by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Moody’s general scheme is to present three symphonies per season, although not in numerical order. The project gets underway with a program that will be performed this Sunday and next Tuesday.

Among the many monuments of Western art music, none is more revered than Beethoven’s symphonies. Millions of people who have never attended a symphony concert will instantly recognize the celebrated da-da-da-DUM opening phrase of Symphony No. 5, and some of the lushly melodic choral sections of No. 9 are almost as famous.

Beethoven was a native of Germany who lived most of his life in Vienna, Austria; his creative life bridged the 18th and 19th centuries. He was both prolific and profound, popular with both concertgoers and musicologists for almost 200 years.

Two telling marks of the world’s enormous respect for Beethoven can be found a couple of blocks apart in Boston. Beethoven is the only name of a composer that is inscribed on the proscenium arch in Symphony Hall, the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A block west, there is a larger-than-life sculpture of the composer at the main entrance to the New England Conservatory.

Moody will open his Beethoven series with Symphony No. 6, nicknamed “Pastorale,” because of its multi-part narrative, which evokes natural and human scenes from the Austrian countryside. Among the nine symphonies, No. 6 is the only one that has an extra-musical program.

PSO program annotator Mark Rohr persuasively describes the overall effect of Beethoven’s depiction. “For centuries composers have tried to evoke nature with their music, but only Beethoven has so eloquently captured its uplifting spirit,” Rohr explains.

To round out the concert program, Moody has picked items by two composers who also worked in Vienna and bookended Beethoven’s career. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to “Don Giovanni” will be the opener. In his early years, Beethoven was touted as Mozart’s successor. Similarly, Johannes Brahms was considered Beethoven’s successor, to be represented by his Violin Concerto.

This program is slated for two dates at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 2:30 p.m. Jan. 25 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

Three American composers will be featured this weekend when the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra resumes its 25th anniversary season with concerts in Lewiston and Topsham.

Maestro Rohan Smith, a native of Australia who has helmed the MSO for a decade, has picked one of the most popular and distinctively American works from a major Hollywood composer of the 1930s as the centerpiece, adding pieces by two composers from 19th-century Boston.

Ferde Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite” was written in 1931 and has earned a place in the symphonic canon of Americana, sporting a picturesque style that recalls film scores from the middle of the 20th century. The five movements – “Sunrise,” “Painted Desert,” “On the Trail,” “Sunset” and “Cloudburst” – follow each other without a break, but Grofe’s music is so vivid in its use of pictorial devices that listeners can follow the narrative without difficulty.

George Chadwick and Amy Beach were both leading members of the “Boston School” of composers of the late 1800s, all of whom were intensely interested in establishing an authentically American musical idiom. Chadwick, who guided the New England Conservatory during its formative years, composed “Jubilee” in 1895. It is noted for its impulsive spirits and rough-and-tumble character.

Amy Beach, who was born in Henniker, N.H., and spent her adult years in Boston, was the foremost American woman composer of her time. Her Symphony in E Minor, penned in 1896, is the first large-scale orchestral work by an American woman. It was premiered by the Boston Symphony and was highly successful. Critics have favorably commented on its distinctively American spirit and outlook.

Beach is also recognized in a Boston Symphony structure. The Hatch Memorial Shell, where the Boston Pops plays its summertime esplanade concerts, has many names of composers inscribed, but Beach is the only woman.

Two performances are scheduled: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the Franco-American Heritage Center, corner of Oxford and Cedar in Lewiston, and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Orion Performing Arts Center, at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

‘Tap, Tap, Jazz’

Maine State Ballet was founded by a married couple with diverse interests and experience in the multifarious world of dance.

Linda MacArthur Miele had years of experience with New York City Ballet, including many productions choreographed and directed by George Balanchine. In her decades in Maine, she is best known for producing and choreographing “The Nutcracker” every Christmas season.

Husband Jonathan Miele is a former New York hoofer, with experience in numerous Broadway musicals and other popular shows. His branch of modern popular dance will be featured this weekend, when 40 instructors and advanced students of Maine State Ballet will present “Tap, Tap, Jazz” at the company’s Falmouth home.

Tap dance and jazz music are two art forms that originated with African-Americans of the late 19th century. The former began with touring minstrel shows about the time of the Civil War, while the latter got started decades later on the streets of New Orleans.

“Tap, Tap, Jazz” will feature a potpourri of various styles and eras of tap and jazz dance as well as showcasing members of the school.

Three performances of “Tap, Tap, Jazz” are scheduled for the Maine State Ballet Theater, 348 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth: 7 p.m. Jan. 23 plus 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Jan. 24. Call 781-3587.

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Maine State Ballet will offer a potpourri of modern dances in a program titled “Tap, Tap, Jazz,” which is slated for three performances this weekend in Falmouth.

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