Shopping for classical holiday concerts in Howard County

Howard County Times

The weeks quickly running up to the holiday season make it difficult for people to concentrate on anything other than shopping and, well, more shopping. That’s why local classical music organizations know that it’s best to schedule their concerts for early in December.

Columbia Pro Cantare is doing its annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah” on Sunday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake; and then the Columbia Pro Cantare Chamber Singers perform its “A Christmas Noel” concert on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Another case in point is the Columbia Orchestra, which has its next concert on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake.

Howard County audiences rely on Columbia Pro Cantare to help put them in a holiday mood and generally encourage all of us to slow down and savor the music.

Its “Messiah” performance includes the Christmas section and selections from Parts II and III of Handel’s 18th-century choral masterpiece. Featured performers are soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo Leah Kaye Serr, tenor Charles Reid, baritone Steven Eddy and organist Henry Lowe.

“Our hearts and minds are more challenged than ever,” observed Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson. “Music can ameliorate the sensory overload we are experiencing. Handel’s ‘Messiah’ has a powerful message for audiences, who find it comforting.”

Dawson knows that her faithful audience looks forward to hearing “Messiah” every year, noting that “people want to hear it, just as they want to hear Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ and Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana.’”

The ensuing Dec. 10 program finds a smaller ensemble doing what Dawson termed “a varied program” of seasonal music spanning several centuries and encompassing both familiar and unfamiliar songs.

For its Dec. 2 concert, the Columbia Orchestra will perform John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances”; Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” with guitarist William Feasley; and Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

“It’s kind of fun to fit these three pieces together,” said Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love. “It has been more than 10 years since we did Symphonie Fantastique. I wanted to do ‘The Chairman Dances’ to mark the 70th birthday of John Adams [an American composer], and we had not done something with guitar for a while. There is a fantasy element running through the whole program.”

By way of political fantasy, for instance, Adams’ compact “The Chairman Dances” is a 13-minute piece from 1985 that the composer has described as an orchestral outtake from his opera “Nixon in China.” The piece thematically concerns Chairman Mao descending from his painted portrait in order to dance a foxtrot with Madame Mao.

Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranquez” is a 1939 guitar concerto that was inspired by royal gardens and therefor aims to place the listener in a pastoral setting. This concerto remains the composer’s best-known composition.

French composer Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique bears the full title “Fantastical Symphony: An Episode in the Life of an Artist in Five Parts.” Berlioz, who composed it in 1830, reportedly was under the influence of opium at the time. Whatever the biographical case, this piece definitely has a dreamy quality.

The composer’s program notes describe a young musician who is “afflicted by the sickness of spirit which a famous writer has called the vagueness of passions.” Berlioz’s program notes go on to talk about the protagonist’s romantic longings and the corresponding range of emotions he feels. As if that weren’t enough, the composer imagines his protagonist taking opium and having wild dreams culminating in a witches’ sabbath. This fantasy-fueled symphonic composition certainly exemplifies the 19th-century romantic movement at its most manic.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs “Messiah” on Sunday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $23, $20 for seniors and students, in advance; $2 more at the door. There is a pre-concert lecture by Ernest Liotti at 6:30 p.m. Columbia Pro Cantare Chamber Singers perform “A Christmas Noel” on Sunday, Dec. 10, at 3 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. Tickets are $15, $13 for seniors and students, in advance; $2 more at the door. Call 410-799-9321 or go to procantare.org

Columbia Orchestra performs on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $22 and $28, $18 and $24 for seniors, $10 and $12 for students. Call 410-465-8777 or go to columbiaorchestra.org

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