When Columbia Orchestra music director Jason Love leads its season-opening concert this Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre, he’ll be marking his 20th anniversary as its leader.
“The key to being around that long is that a conductor and an orchestra are a little like a marriage,” Love said. “If it’s always the same thing, it gets stale after awhile. It’s all about finding fresh perspectives. I’m always challenging myself to bring a new outlook.”
The upcoming program promises to follow through on his words. It’s comprised of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”; Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture; and Witold Lutoslawski’s “Les Espaces du Sommeil (The Spaces of Sleep),” featuring bass-baritone Robert Cantrell.
“The Brahms and Beethoven are favorite pieces of mine that we haven’t done in more than a decade,” Love noted.
In returning to what he called an “immense” symphony by Beethoven, for instance, Love has been researching the composer’s original intentions and thinking about things such as the difference that can be achieved by playing it with a faster tempo than the long-established orchestral norm.
“I want to come at it with fresh eyes. It really is a journey of erasing all the recordings you grew up with as a kid.”
First performed in Vienna in 1805, Beethoven’s so-called “Eroica” Symphony truly is a heroic assertion on this German composer’s part. Indeed, it is a landmark composition that combines elements of the earlier classical style with which Beethoven grew up and the romantic style that would become more prominent in 19th-century classical music. With a performance time of around 50 minutes, this symphony was longer and more emotionally complex than audiences were accustomed to at the time.
Its revolutionary music reflects the politically revolutionary fervor of the period. In that respect, Love observed that the composer initially dedicated the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte and then rubbed out his dedication to the French leader on the manuscript page. Napoleon had seemed like a champion of liberty, but that was called into question when he crowned himself emperor.
Just as Beethoven dominated German music in the early 19th century, a subsequent German composer, Brahms, anchored it at the end of the century. One of two concert overtures that Brahms composed, the Academic Festival Overture was composed in 1880 on the occasion of Brahms being given an honorary doctorate by the University of Breslau. Saying “thank you” via this boisterous, 10-minute composition, Brahms cleverly also had some fun by incorporating the tunes of student drinking songs into it.
Love said that this piece by Brahms is “joyous and exuberant,” and hence in the spirit of how the music director wanted to kick off the new season.
On a more personal note, Love said that some of the earliest music he learned to perform as an instrumentalist was cello music by Brahms and that “have always felt a connection to his music.”
Another personal story also explains why Love wanted the program to include a piece that the Columbia Orchestra has never done before, “Les Espaces du Sommeil,” which the late Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski composed in 1975.
When Love was a child in North Carolina, he heard a concert by the North Carolina Symphony that included Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra, composed in 1954. It was one of the formative experiences that made Love want to be a classical musician.
“I think anybody can connect with the music. It’s classically structured and emotionally visceral,” Love said about Lutoslawski’s “Les Espaces du Sommeil.”
Vocal soloist for the Lutoslawski piece is Robert Cantrell. A frequent performer in the Baltimore-Washington area, Cantrell is on the faculty of the Baltimore School for the Arts and also on the faculty of the Washington National Opera's Summer Institute for Young Singers.
The Columbia Orchestra performs on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake, 5460 Trumpeter Road in Columbia. Tickets are $10- $28. There is a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. Call 410-465-8777 or go to columbiaorchestra.org