Out & About: Women featured in classical music programs

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Two female artists will be featured in classical music programs this weekend. First up will be Anastasia Antonacos, a professor of piano at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She’ll launch the school’s Faculty Concert Series for the spring semester with a public recital this Friday.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra has engaged opera star Patricia Racette to sing excerpts from various works of German composer Richard Strauss, including “Salome.” The PSO will also continue its series of symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven; No. 8 is slated for this Sunday and repeats on Tuesday.

This Friday and Saturday in Falmouth, Maine State Ballet is offering three performances of “Tap, Tap, Jazz,” its annual showcase of modern terpsichorean talent. Because 2016 marks the program’s 10th anniversary, a retrospective format is planned.

Okbari Middle Eastern Ensemble will give a free concert on Friday in Lewiston.

Anastasia Antonacos

Winter break is over at the University of Southern Maine, and the spring semester begins this week. At the USM School of Music, on the Gorham campus, that also means that the popular Faculty Concert Series resumes this Friday. Opening the second half of the 2015-2016 season will be Anastasia Antonacos, a wonderful pianist I’ve heard many times over the years.

Antonacos is a 1997 alumna of the school and went on to earn a doctorate in piano performance from Indiana University in Bloomington, one of the nation’s top music schools. She has made solo appearances with the Northshore Philharmonic Orchestra, the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Symphony and the Bangor Symphony.

She has collaborated with the late violinist Joseph Silverstein, and with members of the Vermeer, Cassatt and DaPonte quartets. She has been a chamber music coach at Bay Chamber Concerts’ Next Generation program for many years, and she regularly serves as a masterclass teacher and adjudicator.

Antonacos’ program includes the beautiful and poignant last four Impromptus written by Franz Schubert shortly before his death at age 31, and “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel. The latter is an elegant set of pieces written in homage to Francois Couperin.

The Schubert and Ravel are well-known works of the classical repertoire. Less known is a contemporary piece by Elena Ruehr, an American composer who has taught music for many years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I grew up hearing these Schubert and Ravel works, and they have always been near and dear to my heart,” comments Antonacos. “I love presenting newer composers, like Elena Ruehr, and I think the audience will like her textures and rhythmic intrigue as much as I do.”

Catch Anastasia Antonacos’ solo recital at 8 p.m. Jan. 22 at Corthell Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Nearly two years ago, Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody announced that he planned to conduct all nine symphonies written by Ludwig van Beethoven over the course of the following three seasons. This Sunday and Tuesday, the PSO reaches the halfway point in the schedule, performing No. 8. (They’re not being given in numerical sequence.)

Beethoven himself was very pleased with the work, which is considered somewhat light-hearted, but full of musical innovations. No. 8’s innovations include the first instance in which a composer reserved his weightiest material for a symphony’s final movement. Another is the use of unorthodox harmonic progressions in the coda.

That’s the first half of the concert. For the second half, Moody has engaged an internationally renowned singer to perform excerpts from operas written by Richard Strauss. Patricia Racette, a soprano known for her interpretations of Italian grand opera as well as contemporary composers, will tackle a selection that portrays Strauss’ range and development as he tested his creative limits.

The PSO and Racette will perform one excerpt from “Guntram,” another from “Feuersnot” and two from “Salome.” The best-known scene from the latter is the sensuous “Dance of the Seven Veils.”

Musicologists consider “Salome” to be Strauss’ breakthrough opera, one that pushes the boundaries of traditional harmony and positions him as a progressive and innovative composer. The music is extravagant, enticing, repulsive and and magnificent.

Racette appears regularly at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Houston Grand Opera. In addition to an impressive repertoire of operatic performances, she has made concert appearances with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and London Philharmonic.

This program will be performed twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Jan. 24 at 2:30 p.m. and Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Tap, Tap, Jazz’

With its super-size production of “The Nutcracker” now packed away, Maine State Ballet is picking up its 2015-2016 season with a much more modest show at its studio theater in Falmouth this Friday and Saturday.

“Tap, Tap, Jazz” is a showcase for about 40 of the company’s professional dancers and top students from its affiliated dance school. The mood is light-hearted, with many of the numbers inspired by Broadway tunes, popular standards and contemporary jazz, rock and pop.

This year marks the 10th edition of “Tap, Tap, Jazz” and MSB artistic director Linda McArthur Miele has decided to go with a retrospective, best-of format, looking back at some of the favorite numbers from the prior nine versions.

Three performances are scheduled. Catch “Tap, Tap, Jazz” at the Maine State Ballet Theater, 348 Route 1 in Falmouth, on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Call 781-3587.

Okbari Middle Eastern Ensemble

If your credit cards are maxed out from Christmas, then a free concert might be a good way to stay out and about while keeping the household budget balanced. This Friday, the Okbari Middle Eastern Ensemble will give a free public concert at Bates College in Lewiston.

Okbari is a trio of three friends who play a variety of exotic string, wind and percussion instruments from the Middle East: Amos Libby, Eric LaPerna and Duncan Ross Hardy. The first two teach music at both Bates and Bowdoin.

Okbari programs draw on the richly varied contemporary and historic cultural traditions of the Middle East, including Ottoman Turkish classical compositions, rural Turkish folk and devotional songs, Arabic classical and folk music and dance music from the Armenian and Turkish diasporas.

Catch this intriguing free concert at Bates College’s Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St. in Lewiston on Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Call 786-6135.

Anastasia Antonacos, a piano professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music, will be featured Friday, Jan. 22, when the 2015-2016 Faculty Concert Series resumes for the spring semester.

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