Sheng-Tsung Wang, violinst
Sheng-Tsung Wang, violinst (Courtesy Photo /)

Think of it as a boxing match between two heavyweight composers. That’s what the Howard County Concert Orchestra has planned for a concert program titled “Brahms vs. Tchaikovsky: The Battle of Two Musical Giants!” on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. in Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre.

“They were known for not liking each other’s music, though Tchaikovsky was more vocal about it than Brahms,” explained Howard County Concert Orchestra music director Ron Mutchnik. “Tchaikovsky said about Brahms’ violin concerto that it was a pedestal with nothing to put on top of it. They were very different people and had a rivalry.”

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Curiously, though, the Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, the German composer Johannes Brahms and the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg once met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1887 and apparently remained civil. Such encounters serve as a reminder that these classical music giants were not detached creative geniuses, but were opinionated contemporaries who kept an ear tuned to the new music of their era.

Mutchnik decided to place works by Brahms and Tchaikovsky on the same program and let the ears of today’s audience react to their respective romantic styles.

Composed in 1887, Brahms’ Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op. 102, was the final work he composed for an orchestra. This so-called Double Concerto premiered with the cellist Robert Hausmann and violinist Joseph Joachim; and Brahms himself conducted from the podium. Although the piece did not receive a warm critical reception at the time, it has sounded just fine to subsequent generations of classical music fans.

The soloists for the upcoming performance are both faculty members in the Howard Community College music department. Cellist Benjamin Myers, a music professor at HCC, is also a member of the Gemini Piano Trio. Violinist Sheng-Tsung Wang, who teaches at HCC, also teaches at the University of Maryland College Park and the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C. Wang is also a member of the “President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra, with whom he frequently plays at White House events.

Featuring HCC faculty members in a concert in the college’s Smith Theatre is another instance of the recent partnership between the college and Mutchnik’s orchestra. The orchestra performs one concert per season at HCC.

“We’re enjoying it very much,” Mutchnik said, adding that “the faculty and the venue have been very good to us. They have excellent performers on their faculty.”

The second piece on the upcoming program is Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C for Strings, Op. 48, which was composed in 1880. It’s worth noting that the composer preferred this piece over another one he wrote at the same time, the immensely popular 1812 Overture. As Tchaikovsky wrote about the Serenade: “This is a piece from the heart, and so I venture to hope that this work is not without artistic qualities.”

The Howard County Concert Orchestra performs on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. in Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy in Columbia. Tickets are $25, $12 for students 18- 24 with ID. Go to www.howardcountyconcertorchestra.org

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