Columbians will acutely miss the presence of Maestro Jason Love after he steps down at the end of this season’s performances in his role as Music Director of the Columbia Orchestra. Of course, not only Columbia, but Howard County and the Baltimore-Washington Area will also feel the loss. Before he leaves, we wanted a chance to ask him a few questions and wish him the best on his upcoming retirement from the orchestra.
Conductor and cellist Jason Love leads the Columbia Orchestra in his twenty-fourth year as Music Director, the fourth person to have held that post in its 45 seasons. Praised for his “intelligent and innovative programming,” the Baltimore Sun has called the orchestra “Howard County’s premier ensemble for instrumental music,” noting that “Love has the musicians playing not only with verve and passion, but with an awareness to enter into the emotional core of the works they perform.” He has received many recognitions including the American Prize for Orchestral Programming, a Peabody Alumni Award for Outstanding Contributions to Music in Maryland, and a “Howie” Award recognizing achievement in the arts in Howard County, MD.
Love was the artistic director of the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestras (now the Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras) for thirteen years, and the music director of the New Horizons Chamber Ensemble, a new-music group, for five years. He has guest conducted for a wide variety of ensembles such as the Baltimore Symphony, Washington Sinfonietta, Hopkins Chamber Orchestra, Bismarck-Mandan Symphony, Maryland Classic Youth Chamber Orchestra, and RUCKUS, a contemporary music ensemble at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he taught conducting for seven years.
As a cellist, Mr. Love has performed a wide array of concertos with many orchestras. In 2019, he gave the U.S. premiere of Guillaume Connesson’s Cello Concerto and previously played the North Carolina premiere of Tan Dun’s multi-media concerto, “The Map.” In recent seasons, he has performed Shostakovich’s “Concerto No. 1” with Piedmont Symphony, the “Dvořák Concerto” with the Frederick Symphony, and concertos by Haydn and Boccherini with the Columbia Summer Strings. His many chamber recitals have included work with the Columbia Orchestra Piano Trio, featuring Concertmaster Brenda Anna and pianist Nancy Smith, as well as the Franklin-Love Duo with pianist Rachel Franklin.
A highly respected educator, Mr. Love maintains a private studio teaching cello and guitar. He spent eleven years on the faculty of the Governor’s School of North Carolina where he taught 20th century music, philosophy, and other subjects to academically gifted high school students. For many years he spent summers conducting at the Baltimore String Orchestra Camp and teaching at Playweek Maryland. He led the McDaniel Orchestra Camp in Westminster, MD for five years and conducted the Repertory Orchestra of the Chesapeake Youth Symphony in Annapolis, MD for four. He has adjudicated and guest conducted at music festivals around the country.
Born in Burlington, North Carolina, Love studied violin and cello with Ronald Thomas and conducting with Frederik Prausnitz at the Peabody Conservatory. He is a past president of the Peabody Alumni Association. His website is jasonlovemusic.com.
When you started with the orchestra twenty-four years ago, did you imagine you still be conducting there almost a quarter of a century later?
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect! I was relatively early in my career, and the world of community orchestras was particularly new to me. Community orchestras are an incredibly diverse field, so it was hard to know what the orchestra might become. But I have to say, I felt immediately connected to the group: there was an energy and enthusiasm with the group that I quickly felt a part of. I found out later from members who were at my audition that many felt like the orchestra quickly connected to me too. So maybe it’s not surprising we’ve worked together so well for so long.
Looking back at your tenure with the Columbia Orchestra, what are your fondest memories?
The musical memories are easy to recall. We’ve played so many pieces that are monumental undertakings for even the best professional orchestras: Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” Mahler’s “Second Symphony,” and Beethoven’s “Ninth.” Those huge masterpieces really stand out as memories you never forget. But some of the newer pieces—Jennifer Higdon’s “Percussion Concerto” and the flute concerto James Lee III wrote for us—some of those not-yet-famous ones are just as memorable because they were so unique and we were “early adopters” of such great music.
In the height of the pandemic, we had to film concerts rather than play live of course. The Covid case numbers in December 2020 went so high that we were suddenly limited to 10 people in a room. We filmed a holiday concert and rearranged the music at the last minute so it could be played by just six or seven people at a time. I asked each of the orchestra members who couldn’t play to film themselves and their families waving to the audience, and I put that montage of them reaching out to the audience over the holiday music. I still get emotional whenever I see that. Holiday concerts aren’t usually the memory-makers that, say, Beethoven’s “Ninth” may be, but the fact that we could bring music to people at a time when they needed it the most, helped really remind me why I do what I do.
How would you most like to be remembered by the orchestra and your audiences?
Every conductor strives for performances that touch their audiences on a deep level, and of course that’s my first motivation. But what was equally important for me was having the audience and the orchestra understand the music in a way that made for a deeper emotional connection to the live performance.
I’ve always talked about the pieces during the concerts, and we play examples of things to listen for. When people come to our concerts, they don’t just hear a great performance of the piece. I hope they learn some things about the piece that make any future hearing of it more meaningful. If people look back at my time with the orchestra and feel they connect with a piece on a deeper level having explored it with us, it makes me feel like we’ve done what we set out to do.
How would you like to see the orchestra grow in the next ten years, or would you want it to stay the same?
Part of the reason I’m stepping aside as Music Director is for the orchestra to have some new perspective. I could gladly have stayed another 15 years until they had to wheel me off the podium on a stretcher! But artists need new ideas and experiences to keep growing, and I want that for them as much as I know I need it for myself.
One of our main focuses has been for people to feel on a basic human level how relevant classical music is to their lives, and continually growing the audience for that will always be at the forefront of what the orchestra is and does. But we’ve been putting more emphasis on making sure the audience we reach is the whole community—not just the people who have historically gone to symphony concerts—and I hope that remains the orchestra’s focus for years to come.
What are your plans, musically and personally, for the future? Will you continue to conduct as a guest conductor, will you continue to perform on the cello, and are you planning to continue teaching and in what capacity?
I wish I could say for sure… The orchestra has been the main focus of my life for a long time, so much so that I haven’t really thought about much else! My first step is to be quiet and listen for a while to see what the next big thing for me might be. I know there are artistic things (cello things, writing things, and moving image things) and personal life things (such as having one) that I haven’t been able to explore while going full throttle as a music director. Classical music has survived for hundreds of years because it adapts to the time, and right now I’m hoping to find out what that means for me as a musician in the 21st century.
Don’t miss Maestro Love’s two final performances as the conductor of the Columbia Orchestra. On Saturday, April 15, 2023 it will be The Young People’s Concert featuring “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokofiev and also including music from Tchaikowsky’s “Sleeping Beauty” and Disney’s “Encanto.” His final evening conducting the orchestra will be on May 20, 2023 featuring “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin with other music by Aaron Copland and Valerie Colman. For tickets and information on both these events, go to this link