Orchestra to offer rare guitar solo


April 25, 2002|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Think of an orchestra and it's not likely that a guitar will come to mind. But music aficionados are in for a rare treat this weekend, when the Columbia Orchestra teams up with award-winning guitarist Paul Moeller for a guitar concerto as part of the orchestra's final classical concert of the season, "Contemporary Classics."

The concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez by the late Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, is one of three 20th-century compositions the orchestra will present Saturday evening at Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School. The program includes Leonard Bernstein's Slava! and Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird Suite.

"It's a celebration of the 20th century," said Jason Love, music director of the Columbia Orchestra. "They're such wonderful pieces. They've already become standards of the repertoire."

Some might consider the title of the program, "Contemporary Classics," to be a contradiction in terms. "Many people were not enthusiastic about the music of the 20th century," Love said. But amid the nontraditional, sometimes bizarre, experimental sounds of the past century, there are indeed contemporary works that warrant the designation "classic," such as the three compositions Love selected for the program.

"The farther away you are from tradition, the harder it is for your music to be understood," Love said. "These works dispel the myth that all 20th-century music is hard to understand."

Love compares the compositions - especially Firebird, composed for a ballet in 1910 - to contemporary visual arts. "Stravinsky has some affinities with Picasso, and his earlier works," he said. The works are different and fresh, but what makes them classics, he said, are the "traditional elements that make their art very inviting. They are very accessible."

The selections also seem to echo the work ethic and spirit of perseverance indicative of the last century. Bernstein composed Slava! in 1977, to mark Mstislav Rostropovich's first season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Bernstein based the piece on his score from a failed Broadway show. "He had to find new homes for the [show's] music. He took something that didn't go so well and turned it into something nice," Love said.

Love says that the opportunity to present a guitar concerto with an orchestral performance is rare. "With a large number of people, it's difficult to showcase the guitar," he said, noting that the other instruments could easily overpower the delicate timbre of the guitar.

But Rodrigo's masterful composition takes into account that potential for imbalance. "The orchestra plays short notes, emphasizing rhythm rather than harmony," Love said.

"The beauty of this piece is that it understands the interplay between the guitar and the orchestra," said guitarist Moeller, 29. His performance last year of the Concierto won him first prize in the Peabody Conservatory's 2001 Yale Gordon Solo and Concerto Competition.

Moeller, of Cockeysville, said that people are sometimes skeptical when they hear that a guitar will perform with an orchestra. "Usually they are pleasantly surprised. People hearing it for the first time love it," he said.

The Columbia Orchestra will perform "Contemporary Classics" at 8 p.m. Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance at the Music & Arts Centers, the Columbia Association offices, or online. Information: 410-381-2004.

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