The Columbia Orchestra gets to do a lot of big pieces during the season, but it also has a free chamber music concert series that puts the focus on smaller pieces. Its next chamber concert is on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

Orchestral performers really appreciate such opportunities to explore the chamber music repertory. The upcoming concert features the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio, composed of music director Jason Love on cello, concertmaster Brenda Anna on violin and Nancy Smith on piano. They'll be joined by a couple of additional performers, and, for that matter, Love even gets to play the electric guitar for a brand-new piece.

The program consists of Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Trio No. 3; Gabriel Faure's First Piano Quartet, for which the Trio will be joined by violist David Zajic; Jake Heggie's "Some Times of Day," to be sung by mezzo soprano Kyle Engler; and Love on electric guitar joining Engler for the world premiere of Mark Lanz Weiser's "The Stronger Child."

"The whole program is a collection of things we've wanted to do," Love remarked of a concert that presents two pieces from the standard classical repertory and two contemporary pieces.

Love added that this chamber music series had not done any of the early Beethoven trios, so doing his Piano Trio No. 3 is something he looks forward to. He added that he wanted to do both the Beethoven and Faure, so that "the German classical is paired with the French romantic."

The program decisively jumps ahead to the present day with the piece by Jake Heggie. This contemporary American composer catapulted to national attention with his 2000 opera "Dead Man Walking," which has a libretto by distinguished playwright Terrence McNally. Its capital punishment-themed story about death row inmates at Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary already was familiar to opera audiences owing to the source material in a 1993 book by Sister Helen Prejean and its 1995 movie version.

And Heggie will be receiving a lot of attention in our region in the months ahead. The Washington National Opera is giving the East Coast premiere of Heggie's "Moby-Dick," derived from the Herman Melville novel, from Feb. 22 to March 8 at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Those are ambitious operas, but the upcoming Columbia Orchestra program is a chance to hear Jake Heggie's music on a much quieter scale. Heggie's "Some Times of Day" is set to poems by the late American writer Raymond Carver. Love characterizes this composition as a "lyrical contemporary piece with rich harmonies."

Solo vocalist for "Some Times of Day," Kyle Engler is director of vocal studies at McDaniel College. She has appeared with the Washington National Opera, as well as in orchestral engagements and solo recitals around the country. Her particular interest in contemporary music promises to be well-served here.

Receiving its world premiere performance, the second contemporary piece on the program is described by Love as "a bit more adventurous."

Mark Lanz Weiser's "The Stronger Child" is a work for electric guitar and mezzo soprano. A monologue by a Roman emperor's wife whose two sons are vying for power, this compact composition has five dramatic sections in seven minutes of music.

Love said the piece "balances an ancient story with a modern setting to give it a timeless quality."

Although there is considerable classical repertory for the acoustic guitar, that's hardly the case for the electric guitar.

"There is not too much literature out there for the instrument, but the guitar is a good instrument for classical music," Love said, noting that it's capable of a "variety of colors."

He admires this particular piece as "a beautiful exploration of the capabilities of the guitar."

Even though the piece includes some electric guitar distortion, such reverb does not interfere with the vocalist's unamplified voice.

Columbia Orchestra audiences most often see music director Jason Love wielding his baton, and occasionally see him featured playing the cello. They don't have many occasions to see him wielding an electric guitar.

"I played a lot in high school and put it away for years and then got back to it," Love said.

His longtime familiarity with the electric guitar also connects to his long connection with Engler and Weiser. The three have known each other since they were students at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and for five years they had a new music ensemble.

Weiser, who wrote this composition specifically for his friends, teaches at the University of Southern California. He's coming to Columbia in order to speak at the upcoming concert.

The Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio peforms Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3 p.m., at Christ Episcopal Church, 6800 Oakland Mills Road in Columbia. This concert is free, but donations will be accepted. Call 410-465-8777 or go to http://www.columbiaorchestra.org