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Acclaimed pianist to open group's season

Fall may mean back to school and football games for county residents, but it also heralds kickoff time for the many groups that constitute Columbia's vibrant cultural life.

One of the finest of these organizations, Sundays at Three, celebrates the opening of its 2007- 2008 performance season with a 3 p.m. recital Sunday by acclaimed pianist Brian Ganz.

Since 1996, Sundays at Three has offered some of the area's best chamber music in Christ Episcopal Church's superb acoustics. High-caliber performances of both familiar masterpieces as well as new works are always followed by the opportunity to meet the artists.

Harry Glass, a self-proclaimed "symphonic music lover," first came to love the intimacy of chamber music when he attended the inaugural concert sponsored by Sundays at Three. Now the group's vice president and publicist, he enthusiastically endorses Ganz, not only for his award-winning playing but also for his rapport with audiences.

"People just connect with him," said Glass.

Renowned as a teacher as well as a performer, Ganz is a member of the adjunct faculty at Peabody Conservatory and musician-in-residence at St. Mary's College of Maryland. He has appeared with orchestras including the St. Louis Symphony, the National Symphony, the National Chamber Orchestra, and L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo and also has been heard on National Public Radio's Performance Today.

Ganz's program includes such favorites as Beethoven's Sonata No. 23 in F minor, op. 57 (the Appassionata sonata) and several of Debussy's Images, as well as lesser-known works, including excerpts from Andrew Earle Simpson's Melies Suite.

Beethoven's 1807 Appassionata sonata is well-named: After a restrained opening statement, the piece blows at gale force for the duration of the first movement. After a brief respite in the second movement, the finale gallops frenetically to the finish line. Employing dynamics from almost inaudible to violently loud as well as extremes of high and low pitches, this is passionate music in the extreme.

Much more subtle is the atmospheric sheen of Debussy's Images, published in two sets in 1905 and 1907. All six movements evoke in harmony and melody the Impressionist painter's fascination with surfaces, reflections, and the play of light: One can hear drops of water in Reflets dans l'eau rippling in concentric circles, or the shimmering sound of distant bells in Cloches a travers les feuilles.

Simpson's Melies Suite was composed in 2006 to accompany the National Gallery's Children's Film Series featuring the films of early French cinematographer Georges Melies. With waltzes, New Orleans jazz, spaceship music and Middle Eastern melodies, each movement of Simpson's suite depicts the action or ambience of one of "cinemagician" Melies' fantastical films.

In addition, Ganz will solicit "Chopin requests" from audience members, offering the chance to hear some of the Polish composer's beloved ballades, mazurkas, polonaises and waltzes in a less formal setting. Many of Chopin's graceful and refined piano works were written for performance in posh salons throughout Europe (and especially Paris, where he was particularly in vogue) - an intimate situation not unlike Sunday's recital.

In its new season, Sundays at Three continues to build connections between existing and new audience members and its performers: by engaging talented musicians living within the community, by encouraging families to attend concerts with their children, by supporting the emerging talent of young professionals at Peabody and by pairing high school artists with members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for coaching and in performance.

"I consider it a privilege to have music and musicians of such quality in our backyard," said Glass. "This kind of intimacy and connection is only possible in chamber music." With pianist Ganz leading the fall lineup, Columbia's chamber music season is off to a promising start.

Tickets for Brian Ganz's Sunday concert are $15 for adults, $10 for full-time students and free for anyone younger than age 18 accompanied by a paying adult. Information: www.Sundays or 410-992-0145.

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