Classic, contemporary composers evoke sense of place

Concert to mix city, country sounds


February 23, 2007|By Judah E. Adashi | Judah E. Adashi,special to the sun

Ludwig van Beethoven and Daniel Bernard Roumain, the featured composers at tomorrow's Columbia Orchestra concert, have much in common besides their elegant three-name appellations.

Both are acclaimed not only as composers but as virtuoso performers, Beethoven primarily as a pianist, Roumain as a violinist. Both prized the music of J.S. Bach, Roumain so much so that he wrote his own set of 24 etudes -- one in each major and minor key -- modeled after Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. And both composers are represented on the program, titled "City and Country," by works that actively engage the world around them.

While Beethoven's story is well-known, Roumain's is just beginning. Known to many simply as DBR, Roumain is a 35-year-old Haitian-American composer whose music is steeped not only in the Western classical tradition but in jazz, rock, funk and hip-hop. (The full title of the set of etudes is 24 Bits: Hip-Hop Studies and Etudes, Books 1 and 2.) Roumain calls his hybrid style "Dred Violin," a term readily associated with his signature dreadlocks.

At 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in Jim Rouse Theatre, music director Jason Love and the orchestra will open the program with Roumain's Harlem Essay. Premiered by the American Composers Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in 2000, the work vividly evokes the New York neighborhood in which Roumain lives and teaches and the place where, he says, "I found my humanity." The piece mingles orchestral music with a digital audio tape of Harlem's sonic landscape, including everything from street noises to individual voices offering their take on life in the community.

While Roumain often draws on his cultural heritage for inspiration, there is a broader sensibility underlying his artistic aspirations. As he noted in a 2005 New York Times interview: "I used to be very interested, as a composer, in documenting the African-American experience ... now I'm interested in the human experience. ... I believe that where classical music began was in forwarding an idea for the common good. It's become something different in some ways. But I still believe that composers are the priests of that, the keepers of the flame."

It's not difficult to imagine Beethoven echoing such sentiments about music and humanity. Tomorrow's concert will conclude with Beethoven's Sixth Symphony ("Pastoral"), another work linked to its creator's powerful sense of place. One of Beethoven's only instrumental works with overtly programmatic movement titles, the 1808 symphony traverses five episodes set in the natural world: "Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country," "Scene by the brook," "Happy gathering of country folk," "Thunderstorm," and "Shepherd's song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm." Despite these descriptive headings, Beethoven emphasized that the piece was intended to capture abstract emotions rather than depict specific scenes, characterizing it as "a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds."

Tomorrow's program will also feature the winners of the Columbia Orchestra's 2007 Young Artist Competition. Lauren Song, the Senior Division winner, will play the dark-hued opening movement of Henryk Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2, while Junior Division winner Emily Park will perform the sprightly Finale from Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor.

Song is a freshman at Walt Whitman High School in Montgomery County. Park is a fourth-grader at Jeffers Hill Elementary in Columbia. Both play the violin.

Bill Scanlan Murphy of Howard Community College will present a preconcert lecture at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for senior citizens (60 and older), and $10 for full-time students younger than 24. Information: 410-465- 8777, www.columbiaorchestra. org, or e-mail ticketinfo@

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