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Cantare offers 'everything possible' program

Howard County Times

Columbia Pro Cantare has introduced its audience to a great number of composers over the years. Indeed, there will be a musical abundance on its next program, “Twentieth Century European Composers,” on Sunday, March 17 at 4 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

“The audience is going to hear everything possible in this program,” said Columbia Pro Cantare music director Frances Motyca Dawson with a laugh. “Some of the pieces are extremely short, only three or four minutes. Some of the pieces will be familiar, but others are pieces that people don't often get a chance to hear. It's going to be a sound treat.”

Besides the Columbia Pro Cantare chorus and its chamber singers, the concert will feature harpist Jacqueline Pollauf, tenor Jason Berger, organist Donald Fries, soprano Sharon Stewart, and pianist Sammy Marshall.

Dawson said she is looking forward to having these soloists perform within the architectural space of this church where, for instance, the acoustics will prove especially welcome for an instrument such as an organ.

As for the program itself, it includes one piece that attests to Dawson’s longtime devotion to the Czech music that is an important part of her own ethnic heritage.

Although Leos Janacek’s “Otce Nas” is this Czech composer’s 1901 choral setting of the Lord’s Prayer, Dawson hastened to note that it is “not a religious piece as such.” Instead, it was directly inspired by the paintings of Polish artist Jozef Mecina-Krzesz.

Dawson added that Janacek’s piece reflects his “social conscience and empathy for rural people and their lives. ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is a command. This piece is emotionally riveting at times.”

Columbia Pro Cantare has done “Otce Nas” twice before in Baltimore venues, Dawson said, but this will be the first time it will be done in Howard County.

Another piece on the upcoming program serves as a reminder that March is women’s history month. The short-lived French composer Lili Boulanger (1893- 1918) was the younger sister of the famous piano teacher Nadia Boulanger. The program includes two of Lili Boulanger's compositions, “Hymne au soleil” and “Les Sirenes.” A number of musicians and music scholars have been calling attention to the previously neglected Lili Boulanger in recent years, and so her inclusion in the program is really appropriate for women’s history month.

Lili Boulanger is hardly the only French composer on the program. Indeed, most of what the audience will hear is French music. The program title “20th Century European Composers” is something of a misnomer, because some of the featured pieces are from the 19th century.

The French composer Gabriel Faure is represented by two pieces, “Cantique de Jean Racine” and “Ave Maria.” The former was composed in 1865 and has a text based on a paraphrase that the writer Jean Racine did of a Latin hymn. Incidentally, Faure was only 19 years old when he composed this piece for voice and organ. It is dedicated to a fellow French composer, Cesar Franck, who conducted its premiere.

And speaking of Cesar Franck, he is represented on the upcoming program by “Panus Angelicus.” Its Latin title meaning “angelic bread,” this piece was derived from a hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas that originally was composed for the feast of Corpus Christi. Franck’s particular musical setting of the hymn for tenor and organ was composed in 1872.

Other French compositions on the program are Andre Caplet’s “Deux Divertissements: a la francaise et a l’espagnole,” Louis Vierne’s “Berceuse,” and Maurice Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas.” The last-mentioned piece is a choral setting inspired by Gregorian chant, serving as a reminder that modern composers have often looked to the past for inspiration.

Columbia Pro Cantare performs on Sunday, March 17 at 4 p.m. at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3604 Chatham Road in Ellicott City. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students, in advance and $2 more at the door; $10 for children 15 and under. Call 410-799-9321 or go to procantare.org

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