Howard County Times
Howard County

Travel from Howard County to Italy via music, dance and food

It’s always nice to think about taking a trip to Italy, and not just because that country is so much warmer than Maryland has been in recent weeks. You can take a vicarious trip to Italy thanks to the Howard County Concert Orchestra’s “La Dolce Vita!” concert on Sunday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

This sort of European adventure is becoming something of a new tradition for the orchestra, which in recent seasons has done New Year-celebrating programs that amount to musical passports. It’s something that the orchestra’s music director, Ron Mutchnik, likes to do as a way of celebrating the start of another year.


“We try to introduce a different country every year for the New Year and find music and dance that are appropriate,” Mutchnik said. “We have already done France, Vienna and central Europe and thought that Italy has such great music that we should do it. Calling the program ‘La Dolce Vita’(the Sweet Life) seemed like just the thing to do. The concert will cover music from the Baroque era to the 20th century. It is going to be a very festive occasion.”

In bringing that rich cultural life to a Howard County audience, the orchestra will be joined by mezzo soprano Denee Barr; violinist Lauren Yoon; host Jonathan Palevsky, who is the program director at WBJC-FM; and Dance Connections Inc, whose creative contributions will include such festive dances as the tarantella. Also, there will be video projections that visually reinforce the beautiful Italian landscapes and customs. And there also will be Italian-themed artwork and food available to really put you in the mood.


Among the composers represented on the program are the 19th-century operatic heavyweights Giochino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.

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“Operatic singing is so strongly associated with Italy that we will have some, but we’ll also be playing string versions,” Mutchnik said.

The operas being sampled one way or another include “Rigoletto,” “La Traviata” and “Tosca.” Also on the list is the overture from “Barber of Seville,” about which Mutchnik noted that “the story is set in Spain, but the music is very Italian.”

Another opera composer on the bill has a name that many audience members may not immediately recognize. Pietro Mascagni composed 15 operas, most of which are heard more often in European than American opera houses. Even if his name does not seem familiar, most classical fans will be familiar with the only Mascagni opera that is regularly heard around the world, “Cavalleria Rusticana.” The emotionally-charged violins in this operatic score make it a highly suitable choice for the Howard County Concert Orchestra.

Movie buffs will also recognize what amount to the crying violins in “Cavalleria Rusticana” owing to how well director Martin Scorsese deployed that orchestral sound in the opening credits of his 1980 film “Raging Bull.”

Speaking of violins, another name represented on the program is the 19th-century virtuoso violinist and composer Niccolo Paganini. His music sizzles and provides any violin soloist with quite a workout.

All of these musical elements promise to add up to a musical trip to Italy that does not require crossing the county line.

Howard County Concert Orchestra performs on Sunday, Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3604 Chatham Road in Ellicott City. Tickets are $25, $12 for students. Call 888-921-7230 or go to