Chorus to sing Peter Schickele

Concerto: Man who `discovered' PDQ Bach is also a serious composer.

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Howard Live

April 29, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"I hear America singing," wrote Walt Whitman, and if you'd like to share in the great poet's auditory joy this weekend, Columbia is surely the place to do it.

On Saturday evening at Jim Rouse Theatre, Columbia Pro Cantare, one of Maryland's finest choirs, will present a mini-festival of American choral music under its founding director, Frances Motyca Dawson.

At center stage will be none other than Peter Schickele, the composer and musical commentator who has won great fame as the satirical musicologist who "discovered" the hilarious works of PDQ Bach, the mythical 22nd child of Johann Sebastian Bach who created such, er, classics as "Oedipus Tex," "Concerto for Horn & Hardart," and the heart-rending madrigals, "The Queen To Me a Royal Pain Doth Give," and "My Bonnie Lass She Smelleth."

As any musical aficionado who has endured PDQ's oeuvre knows, the sparkling good humor of these works bespeaks a cleverness that could come only from a first-rate musical mind, and that describes Peter Schickele in spades.

Schickele's serious compositions are worthy indeed, and Saturday's concert will feature the regional premiere of his "Concerto for Piano and Chorus" which is subtitled "The Twelve Months."

A five-movement work that begins with a Prologue (an ode to August in Woodstock, N.Y., says Saturday's piano soloist Justin Kolb) and continues through the four seasons, the concerto is a stylistically diverse piece ranging - in Schickele's words - "from Bach's cadenza in the `Fifth Brandenburg Concerto' to Lenny Tristano's bee-bop."

Kolb, a veteran of recitals at New York's Lincoln Center and Weill Recital Hall, is a frequent Schickele collaborator who expresses great respect and admiration for the composer.

"The concerto is a curious work," he says. "It looked easy on paper, than I sat down to put it together with the singers and realized that I was playing all naturals while the chorus was singing nothing but flats!"

"It's a large and very mature composition," said Kolb, "but you quickly figure out that even if you execute the polyrhythms and keep everything mathematically correct, large parts of it just won't fly unless you kick back and have fun."

Also known as the engaging host of National Public Radio's "Schickele Mix," Peter Schickele will be present Saturday evening and will discuss his concerto in a preperformance lecture from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Indeed, Pro Cantare has borrowed his show title to call its upcoming concert "An American Mix: Shipley to Schickele."

Shipley is fiddler Rosie Shipley, who will join songwriter-guitarist Gerry O'Beirne, Appalachian dulcimer specialist Jared Denhard, the Lexington Brass Quintet and the Pro Cantare singers for choral songs by Aaron Copland, Charles Ives and Samuel Barber, along with rustic offerings from southern Appalachia and selections from the Oscar-nominated film score to Cold Mountain composed by Elvis Costello and Henry Burnett.

Such brilliantly diverse fare calls to mind the wit and wisdom of the music critic and composer, Virgil Thomson.

"The way to write American music is simple," Thomson said. "All you have to do is be an American and then write any kind of music you wish."

Columbia Pro Cantare performs "An American Mix: Shipley to Schickele" under the direction of Frances Motyca Dawson at 8 p.m. Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre in Columbia.

Advance tickets are $23 for adults and $20 for senior citizens and students. They will cost $25 and $22 at the door. Information or reservations: 410-465-5744 or 410-799-9321.

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