There’s a diverse wealth of interesting music coming up over the course of the next week or so. The riches start this Saturday and Sunday when the Portland Symphony Orchestra morphs into Pops mode, and features a guest who performs a Frank Sinatra tribute act.
Portland Ovations presents two back-to-back performances next week. First up, Nov. 16, is the Hot Club of San Francisco, a “Gypsy jazz” ensemble that’s modeled after the famous Hot Club de France.
The next night it’s Kirill Gerstein, a pianist who recently won the Gilmore Artist Award, perhaps the world’s most prestigious and remunerative prize for keyboard virtuosity.
Joy Kills Sorrow, a band from Boston that’s gone well beyond its bluegrass roots, plays Nov. 18 in Portland.
Portland Symphony Orchestra
An American musical legend is celebrated this weekend as the Portland Symphony Orchestra performs a pair of Pops concerts. The program is titled “Simply Sinatra,” and maestro Robert Moody has invited vocalist Steve Lippia to perform the role of Frank Sinatra.
Born in Hoboken, N.J., Sinatra started singing professionally in the 1930s and became a top-rated national star and teen idol with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the 1940s. As he reached middle age in the 1950s and lost his teenage followers, he reignited his career with more adult material and kept singing through the early 1990s, when he finally retired.
Lippia’s tribute act flows from his love of the style of Sinatra and his many timeless hit tunes, such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Cheek To Cheek” and “My Way.” Lippia loves the “comfort zone” that seems to engulf the music of this era, and he’s especially concerned with conveying the spirit of the lyrics.
Lippia’s high-impact, high-energy show ranges from powerful to subtle, sassy to wistful and elegant to sublime. Lippia has headlined to standing-room-only crowds at the legendary Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, backed by the Nelson Riddle and Woody Herman Orchestras. And like Sinatra, he’s enjoyed long-running gigs at several Las Vegas venues.
The show isn’t totally Sinatra; Lippia also performs tunes made popular by Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr.
Portland Symphony Orchestra performs “Simply Sinatra” twice this weekend: at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 14. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Hot Club of San Francisco
Another retrospective act comes to the Port City two days later, as Portland Ovations hosts the Hot Club of San Francisco on Nov. 16.
HCSF plays “Gypsy jazz,” a format using three guitars, a violin and a bass that was created in the 1930s by two Frenchmen: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
Reinhardt, who was born 100 years ago, grew up in a Gypsy community near Paris, fell under the influence of American jazz artists and their recordings in the 1920s. A guitarist himself, Reinhardt adopted and adapted the musical vocabulary of big bands of the time into small, all-strings stylings that often alternate between flamboyant and melancholy.
With Grappelli, a violinist, he formed the Hot Club de France, a Paris-based quintet that quickly attracted the attention of American jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Decades later, Reinhardt collaborated with Dizzy Gillespie.
The Hot Club of San Francisco was created by Paul Mehling, a California guitarist who became immersed in the sounds of mid-20th century jazz as he grew up listening to his father’s huge record collection. As a professional musician, Mehling found to his delight that today’s audiences are ready for a revival of the Reinhardt-Grappelli five-instrument Gypsy jazz format.
Mehling’s success has inspired imitations all over the world, including a Hot Club of New York and a Hot Club of Norway.
For next Tuesday’s performance, the ensemble will play accompaniment to several silent films in a program titled “Silent Surrealism.”
Portland Ovations presents the Hot Club of San Francisco at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16 at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center at 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
In her first few years at the helm of Portland Ovations, Executive Director Aimee Petrin has established a policy of engaging recent winners of the Gilmore Artist Prize, a $300,000 stipend that is awarded every four years to an unsuspecting pianist by an anonymous panel of judges. Because of the extreme secrecy behind the selection process, the Gilmore is sometimes referred to as the “stealth award.”
Previously, Portland Ovations has present Gilmore winners Ingrid Fliter, Leif Ove Andsnes and Piotr Anderszewski. Almost as soon as word got out this January, Petrin hired the 2010 honoree, Russian-born pianist Kirill Gerstein.
A child prodigy who was raised in Russia and started playing jazz as a 10-year-old, Gerstein came to the U.S. at age 14 to study jazz in Boston – the youngest college student in the history of the Berklee School. He switched to classical a year later, after burning out on jazz.
Becoming an American citizen in 2003, Gerstein still lives near Boston and teaches piano at the New England Conservatory. He also holds a similar professorship at a major German music academy.
In addition to solo piano recitals, Gerstein has played with many of the world’s top orchestras and conductors. Gerstein’s Nov. 17 program will include works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Carl Czerny and Franz Liszt.
Portland Ovations presents Kirill Gerstein at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Joy Kills Sorrow
Another act from Boston visits Portland the following night. Joy Kills Sorrow is a band that’s rooted in bluegrass but has embraced other acoustic styles.
Formed under the banner “a modern American string band,” Joy Kills Sorrow emerged from Boston’s fertile folk music scene in 2005, releasing an eponymous debut album in 2007.
Founding member Matthew Arcara, a subtle and expressive guitarist, was the 2006 winner of Winfield’s National Flatpicking Championship. The band’s most recent addition, mandolinist Jacob Jolliff, is the Berklee School’s first full-scholarship mandolin student.
The band boasts a large repertoire of original songs, most penned by bassist Bridget Kearney, winner of the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Singer Emma Beaton, the 2008 Canadian Folk Music Awards’ Young Performer of the Year, adds an earthy, powerful presence.
Joy Kills Sorrow plays at 8 p.m. Nov. 18 at One Longfellow Square (corner of State and Congress) in Portland. Call 761-1757.