You don't have to venture farther into the alphabet than the letter "B" to discover the bulk of the Columbia Orchestra's 35th season-opening concert on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School. Symphonic giants from the 19th and 20th centuries are paired in this program anchored by Leonard Bernstein's "Symphony No. 1, Jeremiah" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 8.
"Placing Bernstein and Beethoven on the same program relates to something that I'm doing in a lot of concerts this year. I want great masterworks that interact with each other," says Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love.
"There is a lot of lamentation in the Jeremiah symphony, which was written during World War II. The Beethoven is a non-stop jubilant piece," Love notes about the very different moods engendered by these two pieces.
Audiences generally don't get many opportunities to hear Bernstein's symphonic works, although local audiences are a happy exception to this rule. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's music director, Marin Alsop, who studied with Bernstein, has included some of his compositions in her season-opening concerts this year; indeed, throughout her BSO tenure she has championed Bernstein both on the podium and in the recording studio.
For Love, who has been a consistent advocate for modern American music, Bernstein also is a natural choice. He says that contemporary audiences often are familiar with such Bernstein classics as his score for the Broadway musical "West Side Story," but that some of the composer's "other great works are overlooked."
One thing that audiences will notice when hearing a Bernstein symphony such as the so-called Jeremiah symphony is that the composer's religious ruminations are freely expressed.
"His symphonies are about faith, but it's about faith in humanity. (The biblical prophet) Jeremiah is used as a metaphor for World War II, because this symphony was written in 1942. Bernstein was warning that if we're not careful everything we hold dear could fall apart. On a lot of levels, things in our society today are also contentious."
The soloist for the Columbia Orchestra's performance of this Bernstein symphony is Cantor Tracey Scher, a Canadian-born mezzo-soprano who is cantor at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va.
Opening the concert is a short piece by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela, "Inguesu," that seems likely to appeal to soccer fans as much as classical music fans. Love says there are "very specific things in the music" that correspond to the on-the-field action during an actual 1999 soccer match between Mexico and Brazil. Keeping score takes on a whole new meaning here.
Columbia Orchestra performs Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $10- $25. Howard Community College music department faculty member Bill Scanlan Murphy gives a free lecture at 6:30 p.m. Call 410-465-8777 or go to http://www.columbiaorchestra.org.