(January 30, 2014)

The Columbia Orchestra loves to play new music. That means it's primed to perform the winning composition in its sixth American Composer Competition on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m. at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.

This competition's winner, Michael Djupstrom's Scene et Pas de deux, opens a program that is anchored by Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with pianist Michael Sheppard as soloist; and Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid."

Djupstrom's piece was selected by a jury out of 100 submissions from around the country.

"We get a far more diverse bunch of entries than some other competitions do, because we don't charge an entry fee and we don't have an age limit. A lot of competitions are only for younger composers," said Columbia Orchestra Music Director Jason Love.


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Among the rules for this particular competition are that compositions must be under 15 minutes in length and can't have received more than two previous public performances. Where the relatively brief time limit is concerned, Love noted that some of the entries are "very flashy, as if they're trying to use everything they can."

Pragmatic considerations also enter into the competition.

"We end up bypassing things for practical reasons. The pieces can't have soloists or exotic instruments. We don't have a banjo player in our ranks," Love said with a laugh.

Love is looking forward to having his orchestra play what he described as "a piece that is quite challenging and dramatic. Djupstrom is using the orchestra very creatively. There is an anxious section contrasting with a witty and charming section and finally it's lush and romantic. It's a singular flowing thing with these highly charged sections."

Djupstrom teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where the piece already has been performed. He will be at the concert to introduce his work.

Born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1980, Djupstrom pursued his musical studies at the University of Michigan and also at Curtis. His works have been widely performed and recorded; he also has performed as a pianist in concert halls around the world.

His is not the only short 21st-century piece on the program. The orchestra also will play an excerpt from Paul Lansky's 2005 percussion-oriented composition "Threads."

Most of the program will be devoted to a couple of beloved pieces of 20th-century music.

The Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini will be played by Michael Sheppard. This Baltimore-based pianist studied with Leon Fleisher and Ann Schein at the Peabody Institute. Sheppard teaches at the Baltimore School for the Arts and is a member of the Monument Trio.

And, the American composer Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid" also qualifies as an audience favorite.

"They're war-horses for a reason, because they're such great pieces," Love said about the works by Rachmaninoff and Copland.

The Columbia Orchestra performs Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 2, at 3 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $20-$25, $16-$21 for seniors, $10-$12 for students. Howard Community College music department faculty member Bill Scanlan Murphy gives a free lecture one hour before each concert, with composer Michael Djupstrom participating in the discussion. Call 410-465-8777 or go to columbiaorchestra.org.