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Howard County Concert Orchestra ready to take off

This is the time of year when classical music organizations launch into their new seasons, but the Howard County Concert Orchestra is launching into a new existence with its concert on Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

The Orchestra of St. John's, which Music Director Ronald Mutchnik founded in 2008, has been renamed the Howard County Concert Orchestra. Although the core musicians pretty much remain the same and will continue to do most of their concerts at St. John's, the new orchestra is open to performing in other venues around the county; and is also open to expanding its repertory.

The upcoming concert kicks off this new group's subscription season, but it recently gave a concert on Oct. 20 at a private home in Ellicott City. Mutchnik said this event drew around 80 people, which is considerably more than the approximately 35 people who attended a similar event last season. He attributed some of this increase to a new board of directors that is spreading the word throughout Howard County.

"We got a very positive response for the kickoff event, with far more new people who'd never heard about the organization," Mutchnik said. "Some people were totally unaware that there was a professional orchestra in their midst. We're delighted to have new people who'd never heard of us."

The revamped and renamed orchestra will make it "possible to offer different kinds of repertory beyond the traditional chamber repertory," Mutchnik added. "There are things that other organizations have not thought to do, and you want to put a distinctive stamp on what you offer."

The 17 musicians on stage for the upcoming concert, for instance, is about the same size as for most of the concerts given by the Orchestra of St. John's. A crucial difference, though, involves the instrumentation. This ensemble will include a couple of flutes, and also a harpsichord.

"This particular concert is not a larger ensemble, but it's a different ensemble," Mutchnik explained. "We were cautious last year, pared down our forces, and (had music) mostly for strings."

The upcoming program is titled Bach and the Brits. True to its title, it includes J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4.

"I always refer to Bach as the great equalizer. He synthesized the Italian and French styles into what became the German style," Mutchnik said.

Because this 18th-century German composer musically paved the way for so much subsequent music, it's not unusual for concert programs to begin with Bach. However, what is unusual is that the rest of the program is devoted to British composers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Asked about his strategy in devising this program, Mutchnik said: "People might be surprised to find out that the connections (between Bach and the British composers) aren't necessarily musical."

When Mutchnik was asked to elaborate about these connections, he replied "I will reveal the surprises" while introducing each piece.

The first of the Brits on the program is Gerald Finzi. His Romance for Strings actually does have stylistic affinities with Bach. The second Brit is Frederick Delius, whose dance from "La Calinda" is an orchestral selection from that composer's opera of the same name. And the third Brit is Gustave Holst, whose St. Paul Suite presents this composer at what Mutchnik called "his tuneful best, and ending with a nice big flourish."

Howard County Concert Orchestra performs Sunday, Nov. 10, at 4 p.m., at St. John's Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road, in Ellicott City. Tickets are $25, $12 for students ages 18-24 with ID, and free for those 17 and under when accompanied by a paying adult. Call 888-921-7230 or 410-461-0618, or go to http://www.hococo.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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