Columbia Orchestra, chorale celebrate `Secrets of Grace'

Works by Mozart, Bass, Adams make vibrant program

Music preview

December 08, 2006|By Judah E. Adashi | Judah E. Adashi,special to the sun

Last January, New York Times music critic Allan Kozinn wrote that the Los Angeles Philharmonic "provides a foolproof recipe for any orchestra ... a charismatic conductor with fresh ideas and an openness to new musical currents; a concert hall that people want to go to and that musicians like to play in; programs that treat music not as a museum culture but as a lively continuum; and a management and board willing to support experimental urges."

Kozinn might have been describing the Columbia Orchestra, which has thrived since 1999 under the thoughtful and inventive direction of Peabody alumnus Jason Love. Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in the Jim Rouse Theatre, the orchestra presents a characteristically vibrant mix of new and old in a program entitled "Secrets of Grace." They are joined by the Central Maryland Chorale, directed by Monica Otal, and vocal soloists Debra Lawrence, Amy Reiff, Issachah Savage and James Shaffran.

The evening begins with two sacred works by Mozart: the motet "Ave Verum Corpus" ("Hail, true body") for chorus, strings, and organ, followed by his setting of the Mass from 1779. The grandeur of the Mass - dubbed the "Coronation" Mass after it was performed at the crowning of Emperor Leopold II in 1791 - stands in marked contrast to the hushed beauty of "Ave Verum Corpus," written during the final year of the composer's life.

The first half of the concert concludes with Randol Bass's rousing "Gloria," premiered in 1990 at Carnegie Hall by the New York Pops Orchestra, and since recorded by the Boston Pops Orchestra and the National Symphony of London.

After intermission, listeners might want to find their seats a few minutes early, lest they miss N. Cameron Britt's one-minute opener, "Inledning." The title is the Swedish word for "introduction;" Britt spent the last year in Stockholm, studying improvisation and percussion pedagogy as a Fulbright scholar.

The final piece on the program is John Adams' "Harmonielehre," preceded by a special presentation on the work by maestro Love. "Harmonielehre" takes its title from Arnold Schoenberg's 1911 "Treatise on Harmony," and serves as Adams' rejoinder to the Austrian composer's progressive abandonment of tonality in the years after the book was published.

In Adams' words, "Harmonielehre" "marries the developmental techniques of Minimalism with the harmonic and expressive world of fin de siecle late Romanticism" - in effect, skipping over the atonal and serial language explored by Schoenberg and his musical progeny. However, the work isn't merely a polemic: echoes of Debussy, Mahler, Sibelius and even early Schoenberg are melded into a distinctive sonic landscape in the hands of one of America's most eminent symphonic composers.

A less ambitious ensemble might have opted to represent Adams with his brisk, crowd-pleasing "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," filling out the rest of the concert with seasonal favorites. Love's selection of the weighty "Harmonielehre," along with two other recent American works, is indicative of the Columbia Orchestra's commitment to varied and intelligent programming. The inspired pairing of Mozart and Adams - whose music, as noted on the orchestra's Web site, is linked by "themes of faith, humanity, and hope" - promises an immensely satisfying way for music lovers to ring in the holiday season.

Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for senior citizens (60 and over), and $10 for full-time students under 24. At 6:30 p.m., Bill Scanlan Murphy of Howard Community College will present a pre-concert lecture. For information, call (410) 465-8777, visit www.columbiaorchestra.org, or e-mail ticketinfo@columbiaor chestra.org.

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