Next season promises to be a good one for contemporary American music in Baltimore. With Marin Alsop as its new music director, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform nearly a dozen pieces by living American composers, as well as 20th-century masterworks by Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.
But local enthusiasts of new and recent American works need not wait for Alsop's arrival to hear the indigenous music of our time. At 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Jim Rouse Theatre, music director Jason Love and the Columbia Orchestra will close out their season with "A New World," a program featuring music by three Americans and one famous European visitor.
The evening begins with David Heuser's A Screaming Comes Across the Sky, the winning work in the orchestra's biannual American Composer Competition. Called "all-American music at its most dynamic and visceral" by Charles Ward of the Houston Chronicle, Heuser's percussion-driven score from 2005 takes its title and temperament from the opening line of Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow. Heuser's energetic overture is immediately contrasted with Barber's poignant Adagio for Strings, the composer's adaptation of the slow movement from his 1936 String Quartet.
The first half of the concert concludes with William Bolcom's Violin Concerto in D, with BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney as the featured soloist. Bolcom is known for pieces that elegantly merge classical and popular idioms, and the 1984 Violin Concerto is no exception. The opening "Quasi una fantasia" is a buoyant, jazz-inflected movement, while the subsequent "Adagio non troppo ma sostenuto" assumes a bluesy, elegiac tone (Bolcom composed it in memory of his friend, the pianist Paul Jacobs). The slow movement proceeds without interruption into the playful "Rondo-Finale," in which the work's nonclassical influences - particularly the stylings of the late jazz violinist, Joe Venuti - come to the fore.
The second half of tomorrow's concert is devoted to Anton?n Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, subtitled "From the New World." The composer, born in what is now the Czech Republic, came to the United States in 1892 to direct the National Conservatory of Music in New York. Though he spent only three years in this country, the experience impressed upon him the power of Native American and African-American music, both of which were thought to have informed his final symphony.
While the authenticity of Dvorak's allusions to these strains of American folk music has been a matter of considerable debate, the appeal of the symphony is hard to dispute. The drama of the opening "Allegro molto" gives way to the work's emotional core, the expansive "Largo." In his review of the premiere, William James Henderson of the New York Times called this movement "an idealized slave song made to fit the impressive quiet of night on the prairie ... a picture of the peace and beauty of today colored by a memory of sorrows gone." The agitated "Scherzo: Molto vivace" and the majestic "Allegro con fuoco" bring the piece to a fitting close.
In just over a month, orchestras around the country will commemorate Independence Day with concerts highlighted by fireworks and popular American music. The Columbia Orchestra's season finale is a chance to start the fireworks early, with a wide-ranging celebration of America's rich and evolving musical identity.
Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for senior citizens (ages 60 and older), and $10 for full-time students younger than 24. At 6:30 p.m., Bill Scanlan Murphy of Howard Community College will present a preconcert lecture. Information: 410- 465-8777, www.columbia orchestra.org, or e-mail ticketinfo@columbia orchestra.org.