Columbia Orchestra’s Symphonic Pops has popular appeal

Classical music ensembles like to present eclectic programs throughout the season, but they can really cut loose with a family-friendly Pops concert. The audience can expect to hear favorite pieces in various genres when the Columbia Orchestra performs a Symphonic Pops concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Jim Rouse Theatre.

“There are four or five areas we mine,” said Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love.

That musical mining involves assembling a program in which he presents light classical compositions, Broadway music in both orchestral and vocal arrangements, scores for movies and TV shows and pop music.

As is the nature of a symphonic pops concert, a music director trying to pack as much diversity as possible into a single program will choose selections from longer classical compositions. In this case, Love will do the Jupiter section from Holst’s “The Planets.”

The other classical piece on the program, Arturo Marquez’s “Conga of the New Fire,” is likely to get audience feet tapping along.

As for Broadway and selections from the Great American Songbook, no symphonic pops concert would be complete without numbers from this beloved repertory. When Love is considering such material for his annual pops concerts, he said he likes to mix vintage and contemporary numbers. Similarly, he likes to have some pieces that are purely orchestral and others in which his orchestra supports a vocal soloist.

For the upcoming concert, the vintage composers sampled are George Gershwin and Cole Porter, while the more recent Broadway shows include “The Producers” and “The Secret Garden.”

In terms of selecting numbers from musicals that are currently running on Broadway, a music director quickly realizes that Broadway producers tend to tightly control the availability of performance rights.

“There are things we can’t do, like ‘Hamilton,’ which is not available,” Love said. “But we will be doing it in five or six years.”

Movies and TV shows almost always pop up at a pops concert, and this concert will be no exception. Love has great admiration for the venerable screen composer John Williams. Simply mention that name and people automatically have some of his scores running through their heads. The upcoming concert includes orchestral excerpts from Williams’ scores for “Schindler’s List” and “Jaws.”

Williams isn’t the only screen score talent on display. The audience also is likely to murmur with recognition, for instance, when it hears music from the TV series “Downton Abbey.”

And Jason Love will make the audience an offer it can’t refuse when “we will be doing music from ‘The Godfather’ for the first time.”

One reason why his orchestra had never done music from that classic 1972 film before is that its score requires instruments not normally part of a classical ensemble, namely, mandolins and an accordion. It turns out that this is not exactly an insurmountable challenge, because, as Love pointed out, the mandolin is stringed like a violin and hence can be played by a couple members of the Columbia Orchestra’s violin section. Add a guest accordionist and you’re in business.

Love has spent a lot of time working with arrangements that enable a medley of highlights from longer compositions. He said that this sort of musical editing is “like good editing in film.”

The pop selections here include music from Simon and Garfunkel. Love said that some of their songs will be featured through “orchestral arrangements of their music to show the instrumental side of their music.”

Appearing periodically throughout the overall program will be two vocal soloists, of whom Love said: “They’re classically trained, but can keep a foot in both worlds.”

Tenor Curtis Bannister has international credits in both opera and musical theater. When Bannister performs an aria from “Porgy and Bess,” the audience will realize that sometimes the traditional distinctions between opera and musical theater disappear, and it’s just classically beautiful music.

A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of Music, Bannister’s local appearances in recent years include shows with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Choral Arts Society.

The second guest vocalist, soprano Emily Casey, has appeared internationally in such Mozart operas as “The Magic Flute” and “Don Giovanni.” Other operatic composers whose music she has performed include Verdi and Poulenc. Locally, her credits include Maryland Lyric Opera and solo performances in Washington.

An intensely local aspect of this concert is that two winners in the Columbia Orchestra’s Young Artist Competition will be showcased in short selections. As Love observed: “There is a smidgen of this and a smidgen of that and it allows you to see how amazing the kids are.”

Ryan Li, 13, plays the violin. A student at Mount View Middle School in Ellicott City, he performs on both Saturday and Sunday.

Gianna Baker, 14, plays the flute. A student at Elkridge Landing Middle School, she performs on Sunday.

Columbia Orchestra gives a Symphonic Pops concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Jim Rouse Theatre, 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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