Out & About: Tip-top music for late January

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With the calendar approaching the end of January, the seasonal slowdown in the performing arts has pretty much ended, with most of southern Maine’s performers, producers and presenters returning to local stages with a variety of tip-top offerings.

Portland Ovations returns with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center in a Jan. 25 show that’s been sold out for weeks. Five days later Portland Ovations presents an unusual modern classical ensemble: ETHEL String Quartet.

On Jan. 27 Portland Symphony Orchestra returns from its post-Christmas hiatus with a program with its own concertmaster Charles Dimmick taking a featured solo role.

One Longfellow Square in Portland has a pair of outstanding acts coming up. This Friday, Vermont singer-songwriter Chad Hollister visits with his band, while Tift Merritt, a nationally known singer-songwriter holds forth the following Wednesday.

Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center

With winter approaching its midpoint and the thermometer plunging to the lowest readings of the season this week, it’s appropriate that Portland Ovations brings forth its hottest ticket of the year. Trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis will lead the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a sold-out performance this Friday.

On tour to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra features 15 leading soloists under the leadership of Marsalis, a musical director, trumpeter, composer and educator.

Formed in 1987, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was assembled from the surviving members of the Duke Ellington Big Band and the Wynton Marsalis Septet. Ensconced in one of America’s premier shrines of music, this critically acclaimed resident ensemble continues to perform a repertoire across the full jazz spectrum.

Marsalis and the orchestra draw from an extensive repertoire that includes not only the masterworks of Ellington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and other jazz legends but also original compositions by Marsalis, Ted Nash and several members of the ensemble.

With its expansive range of brilliant new music for quartets, big bands, chamber music ensembles, symphony orchestras, tap dance and ballet, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has expanded the genre’s vocabulary and popular appeal.

Portland Ovations presents Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at 8 p.m. Jan. 25. Although the performance is sold out, marketing director Chip Kibort said a limited number of tickets may be released on the day of performance. Call PortTix at 842-0800.


Most classical string quartets focus on the masterworks of the chamber music genre, with a smattering of pieces by modern composers added. Not so ETHEL, a New York-based string quartet that focuses almost exclusively on works of living composers and performs them with unrivaled exuberance, intensity and artistry.

And that’s what listeners will hear on Jan. 30 when Portland Ovations presents ETHEL in a program titled “Present Beauty,” which is based on a film score written by Philip Glass, one of the deans of modern American art music. Also represented will be composers Terry Riley, David Lang and Julia Wolfe.

Portland Ovations presents ETHEL at 7:30 p.m. at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The position of “concertmaster” of a classical orchestra is often misunderstood, and sometimes even confused or conflated with “conductor” and “maestro.”

Briefly stated, the concertmaster is the orchestra’s premier violinist and sits in a position of honor near the conductor. His duties are mostly behind the scenes, but occasionally the concertmaster is called upon to perform a solo role.

That’s the case this Sunday, when the Portland Symphony returns to Merrill Auditorium with a program that also celebrates the 256th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Maestro Robert Moody’s selections feature concertmaster Charles Dimmick, who’s been in the job for more than 10 years, doing the solo honors in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3. The program also includes one of Mozart’s best-known works: Symphony No. 39. Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony,” an easygoing homage to composers of Mozart’s period, is also on the program.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “Happy Birthday Mozart” at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Chad Hollister Band

A mellow rock sound that emphasizes very melodic approaches to positive subjects is the stock in trade of one of New England’s top singer-songwriters, who will be visiting Portland this Friday. Chad Hollister and his three bandmates hail from Burlington, Vt., but they’re been venturing further afield in the past couple of years.

As a songwriter, Hollister national reputation is largely based on “Grow,” a tune that reflects the simple joys of childhood in a loving family. The lyric draws comparison between Hollister’s own past, while his own kids provide the song’s forward emotional momentum. The song has enjoyed considerable airplay all over the country. I’m also impressed with Hollister’s ability to reinterpret songs by other artists, with “My Best Friend’s Girl” being a particularly noteworthy effort.

Catch the Chad Hollister Band at 8 p.m. Jan. 25 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt’s latest CD is titled “Traveling Alone,” but she’s not exactly without company when she’s on the road these days. There’s her band, of course, which includes husband Zeke Hutchins, the drummer. Plus there are legions of adoring fans, who love her pure and very expressive voice, which is perfectly matched with her ability to craft melodies and lyrics. Portland audiences will get a chance to hear her Jan. 30 when her road company pulls into One Longfellow Square.

Although she comes from a southern family steeped in the Americana tradition and she had some early experience performing in public, Merritt doubted her abilities as a musician. While in college, she was embarking on a career as a writer when she teamed up with Hutchins, whose band was dissolving, to start a brand-new project.

The result has been seven albums produced over the past 10 years and a slew of award nominations, including the 2004 Grammy for “Country Album of the Year.” Merritt has also been nominated for four awards by the Nashville-based Americana Music Association.

Songs that particularly strike my fancy are “Sweet Spot” and “Supposed to Make You Happy.” On the surface these tunes are archetypes of simplicity, but Merritt’s understated performance and lyrical abilities deliver multiple layers of meaning and subtle sub-themes.

Catch Tift Merritt and her band Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Singer-songwriter Tift Merritt will perform Jan. 30 at One Longfellow Square in Portland.