Pro Cantare is opening Nov. 1

"Sing on with hymns uproarious," exhorted the poet John Betjeman. And with all the musical drama and excitement programmed into Columbia Pro Cantare's 27th concert season, that's precisely what conductor Frances Motyca Dawson and her chorus of some 150 singers have in mind.

Dawson is tied ethnically and aesthetically to the music of Eastern Europe, and it is to that passionately musical part of the world she will head to commence Pro Cantare's year.


On Nov. 1, the chorus and a full orchestra will perform the Stabat Mater of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak with soprano April-Joy Gutierrez, mezzo-soprano Mary Ann McCormick, tenor Charles Reid and bass-baritone Lester Lynch on hand to do the solo honors.

Stabat Mater, Dvorak's setting of a medieval text in which the poet imagines the Virgin Mary's anguish upon witnessing the horror of the Crucifixion, was composed as the composer mourned the loss of three of his children who had died over a two-year period. When Dvorak conceptualized Mary's pain, he felt it from the inside.


Still, even in sorrow, Dvorak's innate charm and inexhaustible flair for melody rose to the fore, and the work, while darkly anguished at many junctures, is in the end full of poignancy and emotional uplift. "It has everything," said Dawson, "operatic influences, a cappella passages, folk elements, suggestions of Czech dances and the sheer beauty of Dvorak's writing for the orchestra. You feel like you're sitting in a luxurious bath of sound."

Numerous recordings of the Stabat Mater have been made in recent years, which suggests it is finding its niche in the upper reaches of the choral canon. Fitting indeed that Pro Cantare, so steeped in the choral traditions of Central and Eastern Europe, should have a go at it before its local audience.

Pro Cantare's season proceeds from strength to strength when on Dec. 7 the chorus presents its annual performance of George Frederick Handel's Messiah. Perennial soloists Amy van Roekel, Rosa Maria Pascarella, Reid and Lynch return to sing the full Christmas portion and extensive sections of Parts II and III excerpted from the best-loved choral work ever written.

Pro Cantare takes on a more intimate form and setting Dec. 14, when Pro Cantare's Chamber Singers, 30 voices culled from the larger group, perform an afternoon of seasonal favorites at Christ Episcopal Church in Columbia.

The Czech repertoire will be featured again March 21 when Pro Cantare makes its once-a-year musical pilgrimage to Charm City to perform on the "Community Concerts at Second" series held at Baltimore's Second Presbyterian Church. More Dvorak will be sung, along with works by Dvorak's countryman, Leos Janacek, as the Columbians join forces with the Second Presbyterian choir, organist Margaret Budd and a full concert orchestra. The concert will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Janacek's birth and the hundredth anniversary of Dvorak's death.

A festival of American music will close the Pro Cantare season May 3 when the choir will be joined by pianist Justin Kolb and Peter Schickele for the latter's Concerto for Piano and Chorus.

Schickele, a noted serious composer and musical pundit who is most famous for his "discovery" of compositions by the hilariously apocryphal PDQ Bach, will be at the concert, which also will include some of his more unbridled works. May's season-ender also will bring some introspective selections by Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, as well as African-American spirituals and folk songs from Appalachia.

Subscription information about Columbia Pro Cantare's concert season: 410-465-5744.