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The cultural diversity of our country will be sampled in an “American Stories” concert being given by the Columbia Orchestra on Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre.

There are so many American stories that can be told through music, Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love said.

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"I started off planning this concert by looking for things in the 20-minute range. By not doing things as long as a full-length symphony, there’s more latitude to look around for the program.”

His eclectic choices for the upcoming program are Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront,” Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” Gabriela Lena Frank’s “La Llorona” and George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

The Symphonic Suite by Bernstein is a distillation of his score for director Elia Kazan’s classic 1954 drama “On the Waterfront,” which starred Marlon Brando as a former boxer working as a longshoreman in Hoboken, N.J.

Bernstein disliked the editing and dubbing required in the filmmaking process, which may explain why “On the Waterfront” is his only movie score. “That process was frustrating for Bernstein, who mostly wrote music that stands on its own. Bernstein was not used to stepping back. But this music is so emotionally gripping,” Love said.

He also pointed out that Aaron Copland was a mentor to the young Bernstein, and so it seems apt to have Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” as the next piece on the program. Composed in 1942 and intended to offer patriotic encouragement to Americans engaged in World War II, “A Lincoln Portrait” contains words by Abraham Lincoln and music by Copland that is intended to evoke the American landscape and experience. Copland’s strong interest in folk music is reflected in musical quotations from “Camptown Races” and other familiar tunes. The narrator for this performance will be Darin Atwater.

A contemporary American composer, Gabriela Lena Frank is represented on the program by “La Llorona: Tone Poem for Viola and Orchestra,” which takes its name from a female spirit in Latin American folklore.

Love remarked that “La Llorona” is “a way to acknowledge the diversity of America. [Frank is] drawing on a lot of cultural influences.”

Indeed, the composer has a background that is just about as multicultural as one can get. She was born in Berkeley, California to a mother of Peruvian-Chinese heritage and a father of Lithuanian-Jewish heritage.

Love added that another reason for doing “La Llorona” is that it’s a showcase for the viola, an instrument that gets too few opportunities in the spotlight. The viola soloist will be Julius Wirth.

Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” from 1928 is one of his most celebrated works. Although Gershwin was creatively adhering to a classical idiom here, his determination to capture the atmosphere of Paris incorporated such instrumentation as a taxi horn.

Looking ahead, Columbia Orchestra is giving a Family Holiday Concert on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre. Featured are Dance Connections, under director Jennifer Aversa, and soprano Kimberly Christie. Musical selections include Christmas carols, Hanukkah songs, excerpts from “The Nutcracker,” and music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “Frozen.” Tickets are $15 for 18 and up, $10 for children.

The Columbia Orchestra performs “American Stories” on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. There is a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. 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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