Frances Motyca Dowson

Columbia Pro Cantare's music director Fances Motyca Dawson has put together a diverse program to start its 37th season. (File photo / October 24, 2013)

As Columbia Pro Cantare embarks on its 37th season, Music Director Frances Motyca Dawson has a diverse program, Choral Post Cards from Europe, planned for Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.

Some of the compositions are likely to be familiar to Dawson's audience, while other pieces may not be as well known to them. The audience knows it will be in good musical hands, however, with the eclectic program that Dawson conducts.

Dawson's adventurous musical philosophy explains why she was honored last spring by the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. Dawson was awarded the Peabody Alumni Achievement Award Recognizing Outstanding Contributions to Music in Maryland.

Having received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Peabody, Dawson was honored as follows in the award certificate: "You lead the Pro Cantare with an enthusiasm to serve the music as well as balance the needs of each singer. What you bring to audiences in Maryland and the region is music of a high quality and substance, for the improvement of the community."


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The award singled her out for praise in putting together Columbia Pro Cantare programs that frequently incorporate premieres of new music, and also for her eagerness to introduce her audience to works by Czech composers that rarely get done locally.

"It was a nice tribute," Dawson said with characteristic modesty before switching musical gears and talking about the upcoming concert.

Featured will be compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms and J.S. Bach, as well as anniversary celebrations for Benjamin Britten on the 100th anniversary of his birth; Richard Strauss, for the 150th anniversary of his birth; and, the real old-timer in the bunch, Giuseppe Verdi, for the 200th anniversary of his birth.

"Occasionally we'll do anniversary nods, and there are some gems in there," Dawson remarked about the research she does to find works that deserve a more frequent airing.

The anniversary nods and the other relatively short works on the upcoming program amount to musical "post cards" from composers from Great Britain, Italy, Austria and Germany.

"They're vignettes, in a sense," Dawson observed. "The difference between them is palpable."

Tackling the varied repertory will be soprano Laura Whittenberger, tenor James Farlow, pianist Alison Gatwood, harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, pianist Erik Apland, and the Festival Orchestra.

Specifically, they're performing Verdi's "Ave Maria" from "Quattro Pezzi Sacri"; Strauss' "Durch Einsamkeiten"; Britten's "A Birthday Hansel," set to poems by Robert Burns; Mozart's "Regina Coeli" in B, KV127; two works by Brahms, "Liebeslieder Waltzer," Op. 52, and "Four Songs," Op. 17, for harp and two horns; and Bach's "Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden."

Dawson does considerable research and makes a number of pragmatic decisions in putting together such a program. She wanted to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of Britten's birth, for instance, but his larger works generally require the use of an organ, and that's one thing you won't find in Rouse Theatre.

She was pleased to come across a smaller-scale Britten piece, "A Birthday Hansel," which originated as a 1975 commission by Queen Elizabeth II to observe the Queen Mother's 75th birthday. "Hansel" is a Scottish term for "gift," and this piece is notable for being sung in Scottish dialect. It's also notable for its use of a harp.

That led to one of Dawson's pragmatic decisions. The Britten selection and one of the Brahms selections both use a harp, and so they will be done in the same portion of the program.

"You really have to be practical with the program order," she said, adding that she dislikes concerts in which stagehands constantly are pushing instruments on and off stage.

It also will be a treat to hear the sound of harp for a good bit of the program, because, as Dawson noted: "It's an appealing instrument. A lot of composers have written for it."

Although this program involved making conscious decisions about the works and the order in which to perform them, some aspects of the program only became apparent as Dawson surveyed the program she had put together. It turns out, for example, that the Britten and Strauss compositions were both written late in their lives. In other words, the birthday boys were old men when they wrote these pieces.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road, in Columbia. There is a pre-concert lecture by Dr. Barbara Renton at 7 p.m., and a post-concert reception. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance; $25 and $22, respectively, at the door. Call 410-799-9321 or go to http://www.procantare.org.