Out & About: Violinist Midori headlines Bowdoin festival

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Maine’s biggest classical music festival swings into high gear next week with one of the world’s superstar violinists topping the bill: Midori plays two concerts, July 1-2, at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick.

Hot Tuna, the long-running duo comprising Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady – two members of the legendary Jefferson Airplane rock band of the 1960s – will perform an acoustic show in Westbrook. Plus they’ll have a number of collaborators join them for the July 5 concert.

Slaid Cleaves, a singer-songwriter who left his native Maine for the Austin music scene two decades ago, returns for one of his annual summer concerts in Portland on June 30.

Ogunquit Playhouse is currently running an outstanding professional production of “South Pacific,” the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1950.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

The Bowdoin International Music Festival, which began in 1964, has grown into such a large enterprise that it’s difficult to know where to start when previewing its upcoming season.

For 2012, founding artistic director Lewis Kaplan has made it easy. By booking a classical superstar for two back-to-back evenings, the obvious solution is to start with the headliner.

Midori, the Japanese-American violinist, is one of the most celebrated musicians of today. Born in Japan, she and her mother moved to New York to study in the pre-collegiate program at the Juilliard School, and at age 14 she was soloing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Today, at age 40, she has reached an apex of her career, appearing with the world’s top orchestras, chamber music groups and in prestigious solo settings.

On July 1 and 2, she’ll make her first Bowdoin appearance, performing the complete set of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.

Aside from the special schedule for Midori’s two dates, the full six-week slate of Bowdoin concerts is underway this week. The Festival Fridays, considered the “flagship series,” starts June 29, with a number of virtuosos featured in works by Bach, Claude Debussy and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The Wednesday Upbeat! series runs June 27-Aug. 1, while another series runs every Monday evening with a format that features more intimate works of chamber music. Most other evenings there’s a concert by the Artists of Tomorrow, comprising advanced festival students.

Concerts take place at Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School and Studzinski Auditorium on the Bowdoin College campus. Call 725-3895 or visit www.bowdoinfestival.org.

Hot Tuna

Two survivors of the Jefferson Airplane crash will be performing in Westbrook on July 5. Hot Tuna, comprising two original members of the celebrated West Coast psychedelic rock band that disbanded/dissolved in 1970-1971, will be playing an all-acoustic concert at the new Westbrook Performing Arts Center.

A few years before Jefferson Airplane went into its fatal tailspin, two of its six members formed a side project that played when the sextet was not busy. Blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady joined forces as Hot Tuna, which specialized in traditional repertoire and roots-inspired contemporary music. At first, Hot Tuna normally played during lulls in Airplane’s schedule.

The Airplane is long gone, but Hot Tuna continues to thrive. Recently Kaukonen and Casady released their first CD in two decades, titled “Steady As She Goes.” Kaukonen and Casady still form the core of Hot Tuna, but they’re frequently joined by others. On July 5 mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff will share the stage. Also collaborating that evening will be bluegrass fiddling phenom Darol Anger and his partner, guitarist-singer Emy Phelps, both closely connected to the Maine music scene.

Dave McLaughlin’s Heptunes presents Hot Tuna at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center (at the Westbrook Middle School on Stroudwater St.) at 7:30 p.m. July 5. Visit www.HeptunesConcerts.com.

Slaid Cleaves

When I moved to Portland nearly 20 years ago, one of the first local musicians to catch my attention was Slaid Cleaves, a roots-rockabilly singer-songwriter who fronted the Moxie Men.

They were very active on the local music scene and they were very good. Cleaves’ writing focuses on everyday people, their trials and tribulations and occasional joys. Cleaves also loves to highlight the ironic humor that arises from many sticky situations.

I was soon disappointed to learn that Cleaves was leaving Maine and the Moxie Men for the artistically greener pastures of Austin, Texas, the burgeoning epicenter of America’s roots-rockabilly music scene.

But Cleaves hasn’t forgotten his friends, and they haven’t forgotten him. Each summer he returns to southern Maine and plays a few gigs. Among the most prominent will be this Saturday’s concert at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

His newest album is titled “Sorrow & Smoke,” a two-CD set of live recordings made at the Horseshoe Lounge in Austin. According to Cleaves, it’s the sort of place that’s frequented by the lost souls who have populated his songwriting for two decades.

Catch Maine-born troubadour Slaid Cleaves at 8 p.m. June 30 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland’s arts district. Call 761-1757.

‘South Pacific’

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II comprised Broadway’s most successful creative team of the middle of the 20th century, penning nearly a dozen musicals between 1943 and 1960. In 1950, “South Pacific,” often considered their supreme masterpiece, won both the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It is World War II drama, set a few months after Pearl Harbor in the islands south of the Equator.

Nearly 60 years after its debut, “South Pacific” returned to the New York stage at Lincoln Center with a slightly updated version that won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

Last week Ogunquit Playhouse opened its second show of the 2012 season, a magnificent production of “South Pacific” that is based on the 2008 Lincoln Center staging and the subsequent national tour, which stopped in Portland a few months ago.

Everything works perfectly in Ogunquit’s production, beginning with the two principal actors: Jenny Sophia and Branch Fields. The former plays an American Navy nurse who falls in love with the latter, an expatriate French plantation owner. Fields boasts a powerful operatic bass voice, while Sophia is convincing as the headstrong ingenue.

I also loved three of the secondary characters: Christine Toy Johnson as a native Polynesian, Christopher Johnstone as a U.S. Marine and Ben Crawford as an enterprising Seabee. Most of the costumes, scenery and choreography is by the same people who created the Lincoln Center production.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on U.S. Route 1, presents “South Pacific” through July 15. Call 646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

Sidebar Elements

Classical superstar Midori will appear for two concerts at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, July 1-2.