The Columbia Orchestra and its conductor, Jason Love, have designated their concerts of 2000-2001 as "An American Century Season."
True to that spirit, the orchestra will open its 23rd year of concertizing Saturday evening with a program of works by Aaron Copland, the most quintessentially American composer of them all. Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," "Lincoln Portrait" and Suite from "Our Town" will be performed at the 8 p.m. concert in Jim Rouse Theatre, along with the Second Symphony of Johannes Brahms.
"This is some of the most popular and most beautiful music ever written," observes Love, who is about to begin his second season at the helm of the local orchestra. "And, needless to say, the idioms of Copland and Brahms couldn't be more different, so there's tremendous diversity mixed in here as well."
It is fitting to begin the concert season paying tribute to Aaron Copland, for Nov. 14 will mark the 100th birthday of the Brooklyn-born composer whose fresh, spirited, disarmingly tonal style continues to capture the essence of the American musical soul. "It's the best we've got, you know," said Leonard Bernstein, whose magnetic conducting would do so much to ensure Copland's place in the American musical pantheon.
"Copland's music is so full of wide-open spaces and simplicity of spirit that it simply doesn't sound European at all," echoes Love. "But it's music that speaks not just to America, but to the whole world."
"Fanfare for the Common Man," Copland's austere, heroically conceived work for brass and percussion, was composed for the Cincinnati Symphony in 1942, a time when a shocked America was beginning to recognize the enormity of the task before it in the war against German and Japanese fascism.
The piece rang out like a clarion call to patriotic duty and honor, and so it remains on the cusp of the new century when it is likely to be called into service on Memorial Day and Fourth of July concerts.
Copland was so enamored of the "Fanfare" that he incorporated it into the final movement of his extraordinary Third Symphony.
The "Lincoln Portrait," set for narrator and full orchestra, is also full of American musical nationalism at its expressive best. It begins with a solemn introduction as Copland describes America's greatest president in reverential terms.
The second portion evokes Lincoln's turbulent times, as Copland takes snatches of northern and southern folk tunes and weaves them into a unified musical tapestry.
Finally, majestic words from Lincoln's greatest speeches are intoned by the narrator, accompanied by music that bespeaks heroic dignity in every bar.
Devonna Rowe, a singer based in Harford County, will narrate Saturday's performance.
The Suite from "Our Town," containing the music Copland wrote for Hollywood's version of Thorton Wilder's classic play, also will be performed.
The gloriously autumnal D major Symphony of Brahms, with its long lines and eloquent melodies, will bring the concert to a close.
"We all grew up with our recordings of the Brahms Second," Love says, "but it takes a live performance to bring home what an incredible piece it really is."
Admission to the Columbia Orchestra's concert of Copland and Brahms at Jim Rouse Theatre is $12 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and $9 for students younger than age 18. Tickets and information about the concert at 8 p.m. Saturday: 410-381-2004, or e-mail ColumbiaOrchED@aol.com.