The golden age

The USM School of Music celebrates 50 years
By BEN MEIKLEJOHN  |  April 25, 2007
MUSICAL CHAIRS: One group after another will take the stage to celebrate.

The University of Southern Maine’s School of Music celebrates a golden anniversary on Friday, with a performance featuring nearly 300 performers and two world premieres by Maine composers. Started in 1956 as a music education school at the Gorham State Teachers College, the music school now also teaches music performance, history, and theory.

The USM Wind Ensemble, conducted by Peter Martin, will start, premiering “Golden Smash Hits,” an anniversary fanfare composed by Daniel Sonenberg. “It’s a play on words,” says Sonenberg of the title. “There’s a lot of brass and percussion sounds . . . they smash a lot of things.”

Next, the USM Chamber Singers, conducted by Robert Russell, will perform Cloudburst by contemporary composer Eric Whitacre — one of his most famous compositions. It features discordantly serene tone clusters in its beginning, a spoken solo (unheard of in choirs), and an aleatoric section signaled by clapping, snapping and smacking of thighs for a rain-drop effect.

When the thunderous smashing of these works is finished, the USM Harp Ensemble, directed by Jara Goodrich, will take the stage to perform works by virtuoso harpists and composers César Franck (1822-1890) and Carlos Salzedo (1885-1961). Franck, known for his reinvigoration of chamber music and development of the cyclic form (a technique whereby multiple sections are musically connected by unifying thematic material), offers “Prelude.” The ensemble will play “Rumba” from Salzedo’s Suite of Eight Dances. Considered one of the best harpists ever, Salzedo has one of the two methods of harp playing named after him — the “Salzedo method” (as opposed to the French method). And he founded the Salzedo Summer Harp Colony in Camden, teaching there until his passing.

Moving to other barely-mobile strings, piano teachers Laura Kargul and Anastasia Antonacos will perform a duet arrangement of “Hungarian Dances” by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), a set of 21 lively Hungarian dance tunes varying from one to four minutes in length — among his most popular works, and certainly his most profitable.

Back to big productions — 25 musical theater students will perform a song from the 1945 musical South Pacific by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and from the 2001 broadway Urinetown by Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis. The Portland Brass Quintet, featuring USM brass faculty, will play “Suite No. 1 for Brass Quintet: Sea Chanteys,” by the late Jerry Bowder — one of the first members of the music faculty. The USM Opera Workshop, conducted by Ellen Chickering, will then perform the final scene from Faust (1859) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893).

Time to spruce it up, and thank goodness for jazz! The USM Jazz Ensemble, directed by Chris Oberholtzer, will perform works by bebop founder and pianist Thelonious Monk (1917-1982, known for highly percussive attacks and abrupt pauses), big band leader Duke Ellington (1899-1874, who preferred calling jazz “American music”), and clarinetist, saxophonist, and singer Woody Herman (1913-1987).

Following intermission, the USM Concert Band, directed by Martin, will premiere Celebration Fanfare by E. Scott Harris, the School of Music’s fearless director; and another Whitacre piece — Ghost Train. To conclude the concert, a grand finale Te Deum hymn of praise by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) conducted by Robert Lehmann, will be performed by — get this — the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra, Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Singers, Choral Arts Society, and faculty soloists Chickering (soprano), Margaret Yauger (alto), Bruce Fithian (tenor), and Malcolm Smith (bass).

USM School of Music 50th Anniversary Celebration | April 28, 8 pm | Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St, Portland | $15 suggested donation | 207.780.5555

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Finalist found?
On April 22, Jonathan McPhee conducted the Portland Symphony Orchestra flawlessly. His connection with the orchestra was intimate — they were with him every second of the way! His gestural indicators of the rhythms, dynamics, and articulations of sound were not only exact, but highly expressive without expense to precision. Sculpting sounds out of thin air, every slightest motion was met with audible distinctions — “bringing out” the orchestra’s greatest potential. Please, PSO, put him on the list of finalists in your conductor search.
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