Hope, consolation at core of Pro Cantare's selections

Brahms `Requiem' to open singers' 28th season

Howard Live

August 12, 2004|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Don't plan on staying gloomy for long in the concert hall this year, for consolation and hope will be dominant themes when Columbia's Pro Cantare chorus presents its 28th season of song before Howard County audiences.

Frances Motyca Dawson, Pro Cantare's founding conductor, has elected to begin the season at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 with the intense but comforting German Requiem of Johannes Brahms.

"Now I am consoled," wrote the composer upon completing his largest work, a piece conceived as he was mourning the deaths of his dear friend and fellow composer, Robert Schumann, and, later, his mother. "I have surmounted obstacles that I thought I could never have overcome, and I feel like an eagle soaring even higher and higher."

Brahms may have been the first to feel the healing power of his nonliturgical homage to the dead set (somewhat controversially) in the German vernacular, but he certainly wasn't the last.

For almost a century and a half, performers and listeners have sensed the healing power of glorious choruses such as "Blessed are they that mourn" (Matthew: 5) that opens the work, and the lilting "How lovely is thy dwelling place," which is true holiness captured in sound.

Pro Cantare perennials April-Joy Gutierrez, soprano, and baritone Lester Lynch will take the Rouse Theatre stage to solo in the Requiem, as well as in several of the "Biblical Songs" by Brahms' contemporary, Antonin Dvorak, which will augment the program.

Dec. 5 will bring Pro Cantare's annual Rouse Theatre performance of George Frederick Handel's Messiah. Soprano Amy van Roekel, mezzo Rosa Maria Pascarella and Lynch will be joined by Metropolitan Opera tenor Mark Schowalter in his Columbia debut.

Curtain time for Handel's immortal masterpiece, so full of majestic choruses such as "And the Glory of the Lord," "For Unto Us a Child is Born," "And He Shall Purify" and the triumphal "Hallelujah," is 7:30 p.m.

The joy of Christmas deepens even more when Pro Cantare's smaller ensemble, the Chamber Singers, offers its eighth program of seasonal music at 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia and at 4 p.m. Dec. 18 at Baltimore's Memorial Episcopal Church.

This year's featured chamber work will be Conrad Susa's Carols and Lullabies, an arrangement of 10 Hispanic carols accompanied by marimba, harp and guitar.

On March 12, CPC will premiere a new work commissioned from Columbia's gifted composer, Tom Benjamin, who has crafted a setting of Emily Dickinson's poem, Hope.

The choir also will present Jepthe, the early baroque oratorio by Giacomo Carissimi, the five sumptuous spirituals from Sir Michael Tippett's moving cantata, A Child of Our Time, and works by English Renaissance master Thomas Tallis. This 8 p.m. concert takes place at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

The May 7 season finale will spotlight the music of Dave Brubeck, the great jazz pianist whose classic Take Five taught us all a little something about rhythmic syncopation in the 1960s.

More recently, Brubeck has become a composer of fresh, optimistic, spiritually charged choral works such as To Hope! A Celebration and his setting of Langston Hughes' poem Hold Fast to Dreams, both of which will be performed by Pro Cantare in tandem with the Eric Mintel Quartet.

From Brahms to Brubeck, hope springs as eternal as the music that expresses it.

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