A musical family reunion


Usually, it is unsuspecting celebrities who play This Is Your Life surrounded by family and friends to celebrate the march from obscurity to wide acclaim.

This weekend in Columbia, though, an orchestra will relive its past and celebrate its present in a grand musical program guaranteed to provide nostalgic tugs at the heartstrings.

On Saturday evening, the Columbia Orchestra, Howard County's leading ensemble for instrumental music, will take the Jim Rouse Theatre stage to pay tribute to its Heritage of Harmony in a celestial program of Haydn, Bruch, Weber, Brahms and Beethoven.

As the works unfold, a musical family reunion will take place when Yong Ku Ahn, who founded the local orchestra in 1978, will conduct the ensemble with his daughter, violist Anne Marie Ahn-Petersen, doing the solo honors.

A member of the venerable Philadelphia Orchestra for the past 11 years, Ahn-Petersen has vivid memories of her father on the podium of the orchestra that she played in as a student at Centennial High School.

"I remember when it was only a string orchestra," she said. "I was able to play a concerto with them back then, which was lots of fun and a very good learning experience."

This time, she will play Bruch's "Romance" and Weber's "Andante and Rondo Ongarese," both catchy, romantic works that go easy on the ear.

Her father, who retired last year from a 34-year teaching career at Baltimore's Peabody Institute, could not be more pleased at the prospect of returning to lead the ensemble he founded. "Our orchestra has grown so much in size and quality that I'm very excited to come back and conduct," he said.

Indeed, the symphony's increased proficiency in recent years makes the story of its formative years all the more poignant.

"At the beginning, there were just 25 to 30 string players, no winds." Ahn recalled. "And we didn't have any room or hall to practice in." He offered the basement of his home, where he also gave lessons to his musicians to enable them to play their parts.

"He is a very nice man, as well as a fine teacher and musician," said music director Jason Love, whose idiomatic assurance in the contemporary idiom has added many arrows to the orchestra's interpretive quiver during his tenure. "This orchestra and Columbia as a whole have been lucky to have him."

From Ahn-Petersen's Telemann Viola Concerto with the fledgling orchestra in the early 1980s to the present day, the Columbia Orchestra has lent consistent support to gifted youngsters of the region, and Saturday's concert will be no exception. Violinist Lee Jeon, junior division winner of the orchestra's 2002 Young Artist Competition, will perform Haydn's C Major Concerto, with Love on the podium.

Lee, a third-grader at Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge, has studied violin for six years and is a student of Rebecca Henry in Peabody's Preparatory Division. With her performance, the orchestra changes direction and pays homage to its future.

Love has elected to conclude Saturday's 25th Anniversary Concert with Beethoven's monumental Eroica Symphony.

This sprawling work, which is nearly twice the length of the classically scaled symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, manages to honor past, present and future simultaneously. "The heritage handed to Beethoven by his predecessors is in there," the conductor said. "But it was conceived totally in the heat of Beethoven's present moment, even as it looked ahead to the Romantic era of the 19th century. I think it's a historic work for an historic occasion."

"A Heritage of Harmony," a Columbia Orchestra 25th-anniversary concert, will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday in Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia. A preconcert discussion will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the school's minitheater. Tickets can be purchased at the Music & Arts Center in the Chatham Shopping Center, the Music & Arts in Laurel or the Columbia Association on Wincopin Circle or online at www.columbiaorchestra.org. Tickets are available at the door, but credit card sales must be completed in advance. Admission is $12, $10 for those older than 60 and $5 for full-time students. Information: 410-381-2004.

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