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Classical debut for Centennial High graduate

MusicBroadway TheaterTheaterMusic Industry

Columbia Pro Cantare is marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of two composers who were born in 1862, Debussy and Delius, as well as the 100th anniversary of the death of Massenet in 1912, at its concert Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Ellicott City.

Those long-dead European composers are worth commemorating, of course, but Howard County concert-goers can't be blamed for also showing interest in the local classical debut of a home-grown talent. Although Ellicott City native Laura Whittenberger has raised her soprano voice in Howard County Summer Theater musicals since she was in middle school, the 24-year-old singer finally will have a chance to display her classical repertory before a hometown crowd.

The upcoming program includes Whittenberger as a soloist in Haydn's "Little Organ Mass," which also features the Columbia Pro Cantare, organist Donald Fries and the St. John's Strings. She's also among the performers in Hovhaness' "I Have Seen the Lord," an Easter-themed choral piece in which she sings the part of Mary Magdalene.

"I'm really excited about it, because it seems like a great opportunity for me," said Whittenberger, a 2005 graduate of Centennial High School.

Although this will be her classical debut in the county, it's certainly not a musical debut for somebody who is extremely well-credentialed for a person her age. Indeed, she received two undergraduate degrees from Indiana University: the first in English in 2009, and the second in voice this past December. She's currently deciding where she'll go to graduate school.

She also has studied German in Leipzig, Germany, evincing a facility with languages that serves her well both as an opera singer and as a part-time teacher of English as a second language at Howard Community College.

Where musical theater is concerned, she is a local veteran. Whittenberger has been in around a half-dozen shows at Howard County Summer Theater, including a lead role in "Guys and Dolls."

She says she owes much of her early interest in music to her mother, Ellie, a pianist who provides accompaniment for community theater and high school productions.

As for whether she has a preference for either classical music or Broadway musicals, Whittenberger enthusiastically replies: "I love them both!" In fact, she sang a number by Handel and another from "My Fair Lady" on the same university recital program.

If her local classical debut is of note, the Columbia Pro Cantare program otherwise is largely devoted to the above-mentioned anniversaries.

"I like to have one program per year where I do anniversaries," explained Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson, adding that this program is comprised of mostly short pieces by several major composers. "Nothing is really long, and people will find familiarity" with some of these pieces.

As for putting so many pieces by different composers on the same program, Dawson laughingly calls it a "hodgepodge," and then explains that "I like to put programs together with different instruments and timbre. Choral programs do not have to be all-chorus."

Debussy is represented by "Trois Chansons," performed by the Pro Cantare Chamber Singers; and two Preludes, "La Puerta del Vino" and "La fille aux cheveux de lin," performed by pianist Alison Gatwood.

Delius gets his due with Pro Cantare's full chorus doing "Midsummer Song" and "Part Song to be Sung of a Summer Night on the Water." Violinist Ronald Mutchnik performs Delius' "Serenade from Hassan." Mutchnik is doing double duty, because he also performs Massenet's "Meditation of Thais."

The northern Virginia-based trumpeter Susan Rider, who is a member of the President's Own, is soloist for Torelli's Trumpet Concerto in D, and also for Mouret's Rondo from Simphonie de Fanfares; the latter piece will be recognizable to many people as the theme from the TV show "Masterpiece Theater." It's a reminder of how classical music can be equally at home in a church or on your TV screen.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs Sunday, March 18 at 3 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3604 Chatham Road, in Ellicott City. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students, in advance; $22 and $20, respectively, at the door. Call 410-799-9321 or go to http://www.procantare.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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