Pro Cantare plans a 'jubilant' night of choral music

The Baltimore Sun

Columbia Pro Cantare has a big anniversary this weekend, and to commemorate 30 years of music making, founder/artistic director Frances Motyca Dawson has planned a jubilant concert at 8 p.m. tomorrow in the Jim Rouse Theatre.

The anniversary program will include Ralph Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, Antonin Dvorak's Te Deum, and Karel Ruzicka's Celebration Mass.

Dawson and the singers of Pro Cantare will be joined by an orchestra and by soprano Irida Herri, mezzo Judith Norton, tenor Robert McIver and baritone Trevor Scheunemann for a festive celebration.

Vaughan Williams wrote Serenade to Music in 1938 upon the occasion of another anniversary: the Jubilee of Sir Henry Wood, conductor of the Queen's Hall Orchestra. To honor Wood's 50-year tenure, Vaughan Williams set dialogue from the final act of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice for 16 solo voices and orchestra. The individual solo lines were tailored for 16 professional singers (the most famous of whom was Dame Eva Turner) who had performed under Wood.

With wafting, plangent melodies, Vaughan Williams evokes the magical landscape of Shakespeare's nighttime idyll. Composed alongside his Fifth Symphony and Dona nobis pacem during the height of World War II, this brief work exudes peacefulness in the midst of a turbulent time.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's Te Deum was premiered in October 1892, less than a month after his arrival in America. Jeannette Thurber, who had brought Dvorak to New York to head the National Conservatory, had requested a short cantata for his first concert appearance, and he obliged with this four-movement work for chorus, soprano and bass solos, and orchestra.

Drum rolls, fanfares for brass choir, animated choral interjections, and solos for regal bass and soaring soprano all proclaim that this is triumphant, joyful music. Dvorak was eager to make his mark in a new country: In November 1892, he wrote to a friend that "the Americans expect great things of me. I aim to show them the way to the Promised Land, the realm of a new, independent art, in short a national style of music!"

The uniquely American musical tradition of jazz captivated not only Dvorak but also contemporary Czech composer Karel Ruzicka: his Celebration Jazz Mass (which received its U.S. premiere by Columbia Pro Cantare in 1998) pays homage to the classic jazz of Dave Brubeck and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Forbidden to perform jazz under Communist occupation, Ruzicka wrote the five-movement Mass to celebrate freedom of expression in 1991. He performs tomorrow with his son, saxophonist Karel Jr., in this ebullient work drawing upon jazz's gospel and blues roots.

Whether celebrating the re-emergence of democracy, a heralded arrival on the shores of the United States, the jubilee of conductor Henry Wood, or the 30th anniversary of the founding of Columbia Pro Cantare, this is going to be a festive evening.

Tickets for tomorrow's performance are $23 for adults and $20 for seniors and students in advance, and $2 more at the door. A pre-concert lecture will be held at 7 p.m. Tickets and further information are available at 410-799-9321, 301-854-0107, or

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