Columbia Piano Trio finds strength in small numbers

The Columbia Orchestra knows how to fill the stage with musicians, but it also knows that a much smaller ensemble also can be music to the ears. That's why its season provides a mix of concerts deploying the full orchestra and other concerts that adopt a chamber music format.

Where the latter format is concerned, you'll only count three musicians when the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio performs a free concert on Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, in Columbia.

"People gravitate to the intimacy of chamber music," said Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love.

Indeed, he'll be gravitating in that direction himself for the upcoming concert. Rather than waving a baton in leading the entire orchestra, Love will be picking up a bow and playing an instrument. He's the cellist in the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio.

Joining him are two other members of his orchestra. Brenda Anna, who is the orchestra's concertmaster, is the violinist in the Piano Trio; and the orchestra's pianist, Nancy Smith, fills out the group.

Audiences certainly already know those two musicians, but this smaller ensemble is a chance to showcase their talent.

Besides her Columbia Orchestra post, Anna is a member of the National Philharmonic and also of the Quinten String Quartet; Smith is director of grants development for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Love said that because the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio generally does one concert a year, "we throw a lot of things on the table" when it comes to collectively deciding what to put on that single program.

The upcoming concert includes Maurice Ravel's Piano Trio. Although the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio previously played this Ravel composition around seven years ago, the group wanted to do it again.

"It's such a masterpiece. It's an amazing piece," Love said.

He mentioned that another famous composer, Igor Stravinsky, praised Ravel for being like a Swiss watchmaker in the intricacy and accuracy of his orchestration.

Love said that while Ravel's "Bolero" is "a showpiece and fun to play, his Piano Trio has so much heart and soul and is so engaging."

The second piece on the program is Johannes Brahms' Piano Trio No. 3, about which Love said, "It's very condensed. So many interesting things go on at once."

Not only did Brahms have a knack for generating a rich sound in his symphonies, but he also was able to give his chamber music that same quality.

The third piece is Bela Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances. "These are sophisticated arrangements of fairly straightforward folk songs. He's using actual folk material and making 20th-century arrangements," Love said.

There's clearly a lot going on in all three compositions, and it'll only take three musicians to make that music come alive for a 21st-century audience seated in a local church.

The Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio performs Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. This is a free concert, but donations will be accepted. Call 410-465-8777 or go to

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