Columbia Orchestra gives sound concert

`Body, Voice, and Spirit' presented in works by three composers

Howard Live


March 04, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Borrowing some spiritually charged lingo from the New Age folks, the Columbia Orchestra took the Rouse Theatre stage Saturday evening for a concert titled "Body, Voice, and Spirit."

Homage to the "Body" came courtesy of "Rainbow Body," a work by Christopher Theofanides, a contemporary composer affiliated with New York's Juilliard School and the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

Already recorded by Robert Spano and his Atlanta Symphony on the Telarc label, "Rainbow Body" was last year's winner of Masterprize, one of the music world's most prestigious awards for composition.

FOR THE RECORD - In a music review of the Columbia Orchestra's "Body, Soul and Spirit" concert in Thursday's Howard County edition of The Sun, the name of composer Christopher Theofanidis was spelled incorrectly.
The Sun regrets the error.

Theofanides, conductor Jason Love told the audience, wanted to be in Columbia to hear his work played by the local orchestra but, instead, was in Texas, where the Houston Symphony also was giving it a go last weekend.

It is a piece worth all the fuss.

Based on chants

Based on Marian chants crafted by Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval German abbess whose spiritual melodies have garnered quite an audience in recent years, "Rainbow Body" evokes the mystery and triumph of the Blessed Virgin, whose praises are sung in the original hymn.

A quiet introduction builds to a luminous interlude for strings that is holiness captured in sound. Not static in the least, the 13-minute piece reaches its climax in a brass-dominated testimonial of Mary's power to vanquish sin.

The score's virtues were revealed with authority by assistant conductor Glenn Quadar, who led the performance.

With its shifting meters and moods, "Rainbow Body" isn't easy to bring off. Yet Quadar (with a commendable absence of kinesthetic fuss) brought out the luminous sonorities that have made the piece so irresistible in its brief history.

The "Voice" that came across loud and clear was "Vox Populi" (Voice of the People), a brassy, show-bizzy seven-minute overture by Richard Danielpour, another American composer who didn't have to die before becoming popular.

It is a clangy piece, the better to mirror the incessant din that is, alas, the people's voice these days. Thankfully, there is charm as well, as clever bits a la Gershwin and Bernstein pop out of the orchestral texture -- jacked up within an inch of their lives, as is the modern way.

As I've said many times, Jason Love excels in the contemporary idiom, and his orchestra brought the "Voice" home with gusto.

Piano concerto

For "Spirit," there was Johannes Brahms' grandly expansive 2nd Piano Concerto with Columbia-born Brian Ganz handling solo honors.

Spiritual elements cut two ways -- in the arching Brahmsian lines that push, prod and transform our internal processes with such primal power, and in the direct, heartfelt style that defines Ganz's artistry.

I could imagine a more overtly spiritual approach to the first two movements, which were delivered at a breakneck pace that had the orchestra scrambling for notes more than once.

But in the sublime third movement, everyone took time to smell the bevy of roses Brahms planted at every contour of the lush terrain, and a spiritual experience was shared.

The concluding "Allegretto grazioso" was gracious and graceful, full of the sparkle and play that emanate from a spirit open to joy at its most profound.

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