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Jason Love marks 20 years with Columbia Orchestra

Jason Love celebrates his 20th year with Columbia Orchestra on Feb. 9 with "The Maestro's Anniversary."
Jason Love celebrates his 20th year with Columbia Orchestra on Feb. 9 with "The Maestro's Anniversary." (Howard County Times File)

When Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love conducts its next concert, it’s likely that he will be raising memories along with the baton. His 20 years of orchestral leadership are being observed with “The Maestro's Anniversary” concert on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre.

Love replaced the retiring Catherine Ferguson in 1999. The Columbia Orchestra’s fourth music director, he came to the organization with solid academic credentials from Baltimore’s Peabody Institute: a B.A. in cello in 1992 and a M.A. in conducting in 1994. As a cellist and also as the leader of youth orchestras, he was active in the Baltimore-area music scene.

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Thinking back on what the Columbia Orchestra was like at the time he became its music director, Love, who is now 48, recalled: “It has always been a good group, friendly and enthusiastic. My predecessor was excellent and had moved the orchestra forward. It was a nice time for me to step in and try some new things.

“The audience was fairly small and the orchestra was not huge, either. We wanted to find ways to do fresh new things and put butts in seats.”

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Love’s recollections of how the Columbia Orchestra has evolved will be very much on his mind where one of the pieces on the upcoming program is concerned: Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Love conducted this piece at his inaugural concert as music director in 1999 and will conduct it again at the upcoming concert.

“I remember that the orchestra was good when we played it back then,” Love noted, “but it was not as tight an ensemble as we are now.”

Members of this community orchestra have improved their skills over the years, and the size of the orchestra also has grown. Having additional string players, for instance, brings more instrumental heft to the orchestra’s playing.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” is a great example of the traditional repertory that this conductor, his players and his audience really enjoy.

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The 19th-century Russian composer Mussorgsky belonged to the same so-called nationalist school as such composers as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. His “Pictures at an Exhibition” has an unusual history. When Mussorgsky’s artist friend Victor Hartman died, the composer organized an exhibit of his paintings in St. Petersburg. He then said he would “draw in music” 10 of these paintings as a composition for solo piano in 1874. Little known to the public, the score for “Pictures at an Exhibition” was posthumously published. It did not become widely known to the public until 1922, however, when Russian conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned French composer Maurice Ravel to adapt it into a full orchestral score.

That beloved piece from the standard repertory will be accompanied by two other pieces at the upcoming concert: the American premiere of contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson’s Cello Concerto, with Jason Love as the cello soloist and Glenn Quader as guest conductor for the piece; and contemporary American composer Joan Tower’s “2nd Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman.”

In terms of having these three pieces share the program, Love observed: “The Mussorgsky acknowledges my history with the organization, and the Connesson and Tower look to the future. This is what we do best, combining familiar masterpieces with pieces that people have not heard.”

The Columbia Orchestra performs on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road, n Columbia. Tickets are $10- $28. Call 410-465-8777 or go to columbiaorchestra.org

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