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On Saturday, listeners will be winners


David Dzubay is the winner of the 2005 Columbia Orchestra American Composer Competition; Eric Beach is the 2004 winner of the Yale Gordon Competition; and the audience is the winner when the Columbia Orchestra performs its final concert of the season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Jim Rouse Theatre.

One of the most exciting things about hearing new music is that the listener's opinion about the piece is always right, or, at least, no one can say that the listener's opinion is wrong. The listener is always the winner because no one else has decided that the new composition is a winner; no one else has decided that it is a composition doomed to disappear after only a few performances.

The first new piece on the program, recently composed by Dzubay, is Shadow Dance. It was selected from among 167 submissions by judges from the Peabody Conservatory (Bruno Amato and Elam Ray Sprenkle) and the University of Maryland, College Park (Lawrence Moss). It interweaves original music with music composed in the 12th century by the French composer Perotin.

Dzubay describes his composition this way: "Like the age in which we live, the character of this dance is unstable: by turns ominous, peaceful, celebratory, reflective, frantic, joyful, raucous, anxious, hopeful."

All music reflects the world around it to some degree. This one seems particularly apt for the early years of the 21st century.

The next piece features marimbist Eric Beach performing a composition by Frank Nuyts, a Belgian marimbist and composer. The orchestral marimba is a type of xyzlophone with a range of 4 1/2 to five octaves.

Contemporary marimbas are beautiful, with rosewood keyboards and brass pipe resonators. They make a mellow, attractive sound, and since World War II they have been popular as solo instruments.

Woodnotes: Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra was composed in 1986.

Its style is arresting, using an array of sounds that owe much to classical Western music and the bebop style of American jazz. It is also an extraordinarily demanding work for the soloist.

The second half of the program features a winning piece by the last of the three "B"s (Bach, Beethoven and Brahms). Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor is a beloved and familiar work (the melodic theme of its last movement is almost as famous as the opening of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor), and yet, when it was brand new, critics were divided in their opinions.

In the book Lexicon of Musical Invective by Nicolas Slonimsky, a Boston reviewer in 1878 wrote: "Johannes Brahms is a modern of the moderns, and his C minor Symphony is a remarkable expression of the inner life of this anxious, introverted, over-earnest age. ... We venture to express a doubt that this work demonstrates its author's right to a place beside or near Beethoven."

A clear winner, to us, was deemed inferior by a music critic (although it was acknowledged to be appropriate for its time). It is interesting that people believe that they live in difficult times. What a pleasure to know that, right or wrong about new compositions, history will find that our views were supported by experts. It is good to remember that even the experts disagree.

It is nice to know in advance who the winner will be, but it is also fun to pick the winners yourself. There is every reason to believe you will be right.

A free preconcert lecture by Bill Scanlan Murphy is to begin at 6:30 p.m. Information: 410-465-8777.

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