Robert Moody has brought a dash of down-home charm to his role as music director and conductor of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.

As the South Carolina native prepares his fifth season, fans and supporters of the orchestra will notice him loosening up even more.

That’s saying something, given that in the past Moody has had the audacity — or just plain guts — to rise from a coffin for the playful children’s concert on Halloween or don unforgiving garb representative of the ’70s for one of his favorite pops concerts.

The kids’ Halloween concert, which sold out its inaugural performance last year, will be back this season. And there’s no telling what Moody will wear when he leads a tribute to the “Totally Awesome ’80s” in April.

But we do know this: In addition to his conducting duties, Moody has scheduled himself to sing and perform on cello this season, and the maestro has also included a pops program that features a show that he conceived and wrote.

The PSO will formally announce the 2012-13 season this week, but gave the Maine Sunday Telegram an exclusive preview.

The season, which begins in October and extends through the spring, will feature masterworks by Aaron Copland, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 — all scheduled in celebration of Moody’s fifth season in Portland.

Moody’s willingness to feature himself is not a reflection of a growing ego, but more a matter of him finding comfort in Portland.

“I think we have done a strong job of understanding the community and the community understanding us,” Moody said. “We really feel like we know each other. It allows the community to trust some of the out-of-the-box thinking I want to present. It allows me to invite the community to go with me in not-the-most-conservative direction. I think they enjoy doing that.”

That is not to say that Moody is leading the orchestra away from its classical base. Hardly. The inclusion of the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Mahler attest to that.

But chances will be taken.

To wit:

On Oct. 6, on the eve of the season-opening concert at Merrill Auditorium, Moody and guest pianist Andrew Russo will set up at One Longfellow Square in Portland for a night of crooning in a nightclub setting.

Russo will play the piano, and Moody will sing some of his favorite songs by James Taylor, Adele and others. Russo will also play music by R.E.M. and Sting. The casual evening will include wine, beer and food.

The show is not part of the regular concert season, and ticket information is pending.

“It gives us a chance to let our hair down and do something completely different than Copland and Tchaikovsky that we will do the next day,” Moody said. “I think this will become a tradition. I have done this in other places, and I find them to be successful, and the community gets to see performers in a different way. We are stepping out a bit.”

COPLAND KICKS THINGS OFF

The season formally begins on Oct. 7 with a Sunday Classical concert at Merrill that includes Copland’s Symphony No. 3, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (featuring Russo) and the contemporary piece “Mothership” by Moody’s good friend Mason Bates. The program will be repeated on Oct. 9 for the season’s first Tuesday Classical concert.

Why not Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which is far better known?

Moody considered it.

“It started with me thinking exactly that — that I wanted to begin my fifth season with a bang and a sense of fanfare,” he said. “I said, ‘Let’s open with “Fanfare for a Common Man.” But then I thought, how much better would it be if we opened with Copland’s third symphony instead?

“People hear ‘Copland’s Symphony No. 3’ and they think, ‘Oh, I don’t know that.’ Yes they do. Trust me, they do.”

The more popular work shows up in the fourth movement of Symphony No. 3. It’s not a direct copy of the better-known work, but Copland shadows “Fanfare” in his larger symphony. People will recognize the music instantly, Moody said.

As jacked as Moody is about the Copland symphony, he is even more fired up about “Mothership.” This is a 21st-century piece all the way, written originally for last year’s YouTube Symphony performance in Sydney, Australia. The piece mixes acoustic and electronic elements, and features sections for improvisation.

A Guggenheim Fellowship winner, Bates is composer in residence at the Chicago Symphony. “Mothership” will be the third piece by Bates performed by the PSO.

“Mason is at the top of his game right now,” Moody says. “He is one of my closest friends, and this is a great opportunity for us and a great way to start the season.”

On Oct. 13-14, Moody and the orchestra will present “La Vie Boheme” at the opener of the PSO Pops! series. Moody conceived this show, featuring music from Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” and its contemporary counterparts, Broadway’s “Rent” and the movie “Moulin Rouge.”

Moody pulls on a thread that runs through three of his favorite stories. “Rent” is a direct descendant of “La Boheme,” he said, and “Moulin Rouge” is very close, featuring Paris bohemians and the perils and passions of love.

The show will feature songs from all three pieces, woven together to tell a single story. Moody has hired four singers — two sopranos and two tenors. Two come from the opera world; the other two from Broadway.

The orchestra’s very busy first month closes on Oct. 30 with what Moody playfully calls “Cello-bration.” It will feature Joel Noyes and Brian Thornton, both of whom have roots in Maine and with the PSO.

Noyes is associate principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York. His father, Richard, is associate principal cellist of the PSO, and his mother, Clorinda, plays violin in the orchestra.

Thornton plays cello in the Cleveland Orchestra. His father, Bill, is a member of the board of the PSO.

Moody has tried to schedule this concert for three years, to no avail. Trying to coordinate the schedules of Noyes and Thornton has proven difficult at best, given that both perform with two of the busiest and most prestigious orchestras in the country.

Their homecoming provides a reason to celebrate.

MOODY A CELLO FELLOW

“Cello-bration” will feature two cello concertos, one by Vivaldi and the other by David Ott. Rossini’s “William Tell” overture is on the program, along with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1.

The concert will open with a massive cello solo featuring a dozen cellists in an arc across the center of the Merrill stage. Among the performers will be Moody.

“It’s the greatest instrument ever created,” he said with a laugh. “Why? Because it’s the one I started playing at age 9. I love the sound. I think the cello has one of the greatest ranges of any instrument.”

Moody’s conducting career has left him with little time to play, though he has found more time these past couple of years.

“I happen to own a really good instrument,” he said. “I have always hated having the poor thing sitting in its case. It did that for well over a decade, but I am playing a lot more. I have come up with reasons to play in public, and I really love it.”

Is he nervous about playing for the Portland audience? Maybe not nervous.

“But it means I’ve got to practice,” he said, laughing.

Hovering over this season of celebration is the recent news that Moody has inked a contract with the artist management agency Opus3 Artists, one of the world’s largest agencies. David Foster, president of Opus3, is his personal manager.

“I join the ranks of Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, Mariss Jansons, David Robertson, James Conlon, Sir Andrew Davis and many more of the world’s greatest conductors,” Moody said.

“I’m quite humbled that they added me to their roster. I think also that this can mean much good for the PSO, as I will most assuredly now be guest conducting more of the top orchestras around the world — meaning I bring that experience back to Portland with me — and two, working with a new level of guest artists from that roster, who I also will invite to Portland.” 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes