What do an old castle, an ox cart, unhatched chicks, a bustling French marketplace, two Jewish people, and a grand design for a never-built czarist monument have in common?
Classical music aficionados can answer that one easily.
These are just some of the scenes captured in the paintings and drawings of Russian artist Victor Hartmann -- images that would inspire the artist's friend Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)to compose the most famous museum stroll in the history of music.
Linked by a catchy "Promenade" theme that depicts an art-lover determinedly on the move, Mussorgsky's suite of 10 piano pieces inspired by Hartmann's art became "Pictures at an Exhibition," a work still considered one of the great romantic showpieces composed for the keyboard.
And when French composer Maurice Ravel (of "Bolero" fame) orchestrated Mussorgsky's piano score in 1922, "Pictures" immediately became one of the great orchestral dazzlers as well.
Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" will be performed Saturday evening by the Columbia Orchestra, which opens its 1999-2000 season at the Jim Rouse Theatre under the direction of its new conductor, Jason Love.
A 29-year-old product of Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, Love also will conduct Giuseppe Verdi's overture to his opera "Nabucco" and the dashing, high-spirited First Piano Concerto of Ludwig van Beethoven. Columbia pianist Hsiu-Hui Wang will be at the keyboard.
"No question about it, `Pictures' is a demanding and virtuosic piece," says the conductor, who was chosen for the Columbia post from a field of 63 candidates. "It's not composed in three or four long movements like so many symphonic works. There are several tableaux, all of them short, so the orchestra is constantly having to switch gears."
The key, Love explains, is to use the famous "Promenade" theme to realize the organic flow of the work. "As the piece progresses," he says, "the act of walking through the museum becomes more and more a part of the music and pictures. Finally, at the end, the `Promenade' theme injects itself into `The Great Gate of Kiev' in the same way a viewer would get totally into a painting."
On top of such aesthetic complexities are matters of orchestral size and color, for Mussorgsky and Ravel demand personnel over and above the standard complement of instruments. The alto saxophone that sings the troubadour's song by the medieval castle walls must be added, along with a pair of harps, a bass clarinet, a celesta and other auxiliary musical hardware.
"It's a matter of getting everybody in," Love says with a laugh. "Once the orchestra actually can hear it all, an interpretation can really start to gel."
Love also is thrilled to be conducting his first-ever performance of Beethoven's C major Piano Concerto. "What a piece!" he says. "The second movement in particular is just so inspired. We've all really taken to it."
The Columbia Orchestra's season-opening concert will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets -- $12 for adults and $9 for seniors and students -- may be purchased by calling 410-381-2004.