Out & About: Variety of concert choices this weekend

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Lots of concerts are scheduled in southern Maine for early December. Some have a Christmas theme, while others do not.

Starting with the “not” category, the DaPonte String Quartet will play the second program in its fall-winter-spring series this weekend in several cities and towns.

Portland Ovations will host two-time Grammy Award-winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman on Saturday afternoon. He’ll be joined by pianist David Deveau and soprano Sarah Schafer in a program mostly comprising 19th-century German classical music.

My personal favorite seasonal event, “Christmas at the Cathedral,” tops this weekend’s concert bill, with four Portland performances spanning Saturday and Sunday.

Portland’s One Longfellow Square has an interesting event slated for Sunday. The “Rockin’ Holiday Concert” features Rock My Soul, a secular choral group based in Berwick.

DaPonte String Quartet

Maine’s busiest chamber music ensemble continues its 22nd subscription season with a program that will be performed four times Dec. 5-8 at venues in Thomaston, Damariscotta, Portland and Topsham.

Busiest? The DaPonte String Quartet – comprised of violinists Dino Liva and Lydia Forbes, plus violist Kirsten Monke and cellist Miles Jordan – performs more than 40 concerts a year from York County to Aroostook. I have attended many in the past two decades, and I’m always impressed by the DSQ’s professionalism, artistry and enthusiastic approach to pleasing audiences.

This weekend’s selections include works by three relatively modern European composers. Dmitri Shostakovich, a Russian, and William Walton, an Englishman, were 20th-century standouts, while Antonin Dvorak was a Czech who made a prolonged visit to this country in the 1890s as the director of the National Conservatory of Music.

Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5 in Thomaston at St. John’s Church, 200 Main St.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6 in Damariscotta at Lincoln Theater, 2 Theater St.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square; and at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 in Topsham at the Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church, 84 Main St. Call 529-4555.

Richard Stoltzman

A two-time winner of the Grammy Award will be playing this Saturday afternoon in Portland. Richard Stoltzman is a clarinetist whose earliest influences were Benny Goodman and big bands of the late 1940s. Today he is a major interpreter of small-ensemble classical music, especially the German masters.

In 1983 and 1996 he was a co-winner (with his other ensemble members) of the Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance. In 1986 he was the first wind player to win the Avery Fischer Prize. A longtime veteran of the global classical circuit, Stoltzman has soloed with more than 100 symphony orchestras and has given countless chamber recitals.

Portland Ovations is hosting this Saturday’s recital, in which Stoltzman will be joined by two others: pianist Deveau and soprano Sarah Shafer. The ensemble’s program will revolve around two masterpieces of the German 19th-century repertoire: Franz Schubert’s “Shepherd on the Rock” and Johannes Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in F Minor.

Catch this concert at 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Christmas at the Cathedral

I count myself among the many traditionalists who are profoundly turned off by the blizzard of over-hyped, in-your-face commercialism that seems to dominate contemporary Christmas observances.

For a pleasing, harmonious and spiritual experience that is totally in keeping with the core concept of the season, in recent years I’ve turned to southern Maine’s most remarkable holiday concert: the Choral Art Society’s annual Christmas at the Cathedral. I’ve attended for about a decade, and this outstanding concert now definitely rates as my personal No. 1 pick and I reserve my tickets weeks in advance.

Under the direction of Robert Russell, a longtime University of Southern Maine professor, the CAS offers a program that exalts the traditional music of the Advent season, augmented by modern works that are in total harmony with those traditions.

Joined by the Portland Brass Quintet plus Dan Moore on the cathedral’s organ, CAS will perform a variety of traditional and modern Christmas music. A featured piece for 2013 is “A Ceremony of Carols,” written by English composer Benjamin Britten during World War II. In sharp contrast to that terrible conflict, Britten’s piece is characterized by joy. Britten take some ancient Christmas texts and infuses them with new meaning.

Each year Christmas at the Cathedral includes “Personent Hodie Voces Puerulae,” an arrangement of a Renaissance tune for brass and organ that serves as the ensemble’s processional. The concert concludes with “Silent Night” performed by singers holding lighted candles and encircling the hall.

The CAS numbers about 150 members, chosen by audition. They perform their own calendar of concerts as well as collaborating with the Portland Symphony Orchestra at least once per year.

Four performances are planned this weekend at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 307 Congress St. in Portland: Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. In addition, a “special preview” concert will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7 at noon. Call 828-0043.

‘Rockin’ Holiday Concert’

One of Maine’s most intriguing amateur musical ensembles will be coming to One Longfellow Square this Sunday.

Based in Berwick, ProjectMusicWorks is a nonprofit, arts and cultural organization that primarily draws support from southern Maine and seacoast New Hampshire. Its mission is to carry an uplifting message of hope, strength, and joy to diverse audiences through music, with a focus on American roots music, including gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, Americana and some popular music directly influenced by roots.

Its best-known public manifestation is Rock My Soul, a secular gospel choir of about 20 voices that plays public concerts and gives many performances in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. For One Longfellow Square, Rock My Soul’s program is titled “Rockin’ Holiday Concert,” and it’s become an annual affair, now in its fifth year.

The program comprises a variety of “gospelized” Christmas carols and R&B- and doo-wop-flavored arrangements of holiday favorites. Numbers range from spirited versions of familiar songs, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night.” Less known but no less inspiring are “Great Day in December” and “I Pray on Christmas.”

Contrasting with the choir’s high-energy gospel sound will be introspective carols such as a Temptations arrangement of “Silent Night” and a Drifters-inspired version of “White Christmas.”

Catch Rock My Soul’s “Rockin’ Holiday Concert” at 4 p.m. Dec. 8 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, winner of two Grammy Awards, will play in Portland Saturday afternoon, Dec. 7, joined by pianist David Deveau and soprano Sarah Schafer.