Travel to Eastern Europe via music

Howard County Times

Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson has done a lot of music reflecting her Czech heritage over the years and other Eastern European countries also have been part of the musical mix.

That definitely will be the case when Dawson leads a program titled "Music Masters of Eastern Europe" on Sunday, March 19, at 3 p.m., at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

"When we started out 40 years ago, one of my missions was to do music from Eastern Europe," Dawson recalled, adding that this rich musical heritage was not as well known in the United States as it should be. She also saw it as an opportunity to tap into the cultural heritage of Marylanders from Poland and other Eastern European countries.

Certainly one audience member at the upcoming concert will be able to attest to Dawson's longtime devotion to the music of that region. Dawson said that former U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski is expected to be in attendance.

Dawson explained that Mikulski, whose family came from Poland and settled in East Baltimore, attended an all-Polish concert that Columbia Pro Cantare performed at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore in 1982.

"I thought about how much she has done for Maryland and felt I should invite her to this concert," Dawson said about asking Mikulski to attend.

Poland is represented on the program by Mikolaj Zielenski's "In Monte Oliveti," whose Latin text refers to Christ on the Mount of Olives. Composed in 1611, this piece for vocalists and organ is a fine example of why Zielenski is considered the first Polish composer working in the Baroque style.

The other Polish composition on the program is sung in Latin and features a solo baritone accompanied by the organ. Stanislaw Moniuszko's "Ecce Lignum Crucis" ("Behold the Wood of the Cross") similarly concerns a subject that is suitable for performance during Lent. Indeed, this motet originally was intended to be performed on Good Friday. Moniuszko, who composed in a romantic style, is considered the father of Polish national opera in the 19th century.

Another Eastern European country represented on the program is Hungary. Zoltan Kodaly's "Missa Brevis," which fills the concert's second half, reflects his lyrical interest in folk song melodies.

"Missa Brevis" has a compelling history. Kodaly took an organ mass he had composed in 1942 and reworked it in 1945 during the German occupation of Hungary. He was taking shelter in the basement of the Budapest Opera House, with bombs going off in the streets outside, at the time "Missa Brevis" was completed. It received its first performance in a cloakroom at the Opera House, and did not get its official premiere until 1948.

Also reflecting Hungarian culture is Franz Liszt's "Liebestraum No. 3." One of a set of three solo piano works that he composed in 1850, it will be heard in a transcription for harp. And those hearing it doubtless will find it familiar, because its piano version is prominently featured in the classic 1950 Hollywood movie "All About Eve."

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak is represented by two of his "Biblical Songs," Op. 99. They are part of a song cycle of 10 texts from the Book of Psalms that Dvorak composed in 1894.

Dvorak's "Songs My Mother Taught Me" also will be heard. It's one of seven songs from a cycle of "Gypsy Songs" composed in 1880 and set to poems by Adolf Heyduk in Czech and German. This piece also will be familiar to many listeners. The famous performers who have sung it over the decades include Rosa Ponselle, Jeanette MacDonald, Joan Sutherland, Paul Robeson and Renee Fleming.

The Columbia Pro Cantare will be accompanied by the Columbia Pro Cantare Chamber Singers, as well as soprano Laura Whittenberger, baritone Rob McGinness, organist Donald Fries and harpist Jacqueline Pollauf.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs on Sunday, March 19, 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 and $2 more at the door; $10 for children under 15. Call 410-799-9321 or go to www.procantare.org

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