On May 20, 2023, Maestro Jason Love conducted the Columbia Orchestra for the last time in his long tenure as Musical Director and Conductor. It was a perfect sendoff performance which included the recent composition by Valerie Coleman, “Umoja: Anthem of Unity” followed by the immortal “Rhapsody in Blue” by the iconic George Gershwin and “Symphony No. 3” by the great American composer, Aaron Copland.
…Rodrígue was…rousing and joyful… a huge standing ovation for Love for this performance and for his contribution to the community…
“Umoja: Anthem of Unity” was first performed in 2019 by the Philadelphia Orchestra and also the first piece they ever played by a living African-American composer. Coleman’s melodies brought very clear images to the mind. First, we hear the sounds of a morning mist or a herd of antelope at a watering hole somewhere on the Serengeti. Then a rustling sound, perhaps the sound of a predator nearby that alerts the antelopes to a danger close by. It is followed by images of fear and danger, maybe the closing in of the predator, and I could even picture a stampede as the prey sought safety. Finally, a quieter tone as if the herd rejoins and, in their reuniting, they gain strength. “‘Umoja,’ according to Coleman, “embodies a sense of ‘tribal unity’ through the feel of a drum circle, the sharing of history through traditional ‘call and Response’ form and the repetition of a memorable sing-song melody.” It was a powerful opening to the night’s performance.
Of course, the jewel of the night was “Rhapsody in Blue.” It was composed in 1927 at the start of Gershwin’s classical period with wonderful orchestrations by Ferde Groefe. Carlos César Rodríguez was at the piano. This rhapsody is clearly American, utilizing jazz and honky tonk influences as well as some classical traditions. When it debuted, Gershwin was at the piano accompanied by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Gershwin’s piano sections were improvised and Whiteman had to “watch for a nod” from the composer to know when to bring in the orchestra. In the seats at Carnegie Hall were Leopold Stokowski, Igor Stravinsky, and John Philip Sousa. Gershwin was quite nervous but all three praised the piece. Gershwin said himself that “Rhapsody” was “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America.”
Rodríguez, who has been playing piano since age five, was masterful. Without any written music in front of him, his fingers flew over every key. His interpretation was rousing and joyful.
Maestro Love’s time with the Columbia Orchestra drew to a brilliant end with Copeland’s Symphony No. 3. Written toward the end of the World War II, it is probably not as well-known as his “Appalachian Spring” or “Rodeo.” However, it is probably the most complex. It is very evocative of the American experience, with some sections similar to those of “Appalachian Spring,” some with a Mexican flair, and “Fanfare for the Common Man,” written to commemorate the United State’s entrance into World War II in 1942.
The concert at the also marked the start of a new Concert Master for the Orchestra, Paul Li. After a huge standing ovation for Love for this performance and for his contribution to the community, the night was over as was this season for the Columbia Orchestra.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
“Rhapsody in Blue” was presented on May 20, 2023 by The Columbia Orchestra at the Jim Rouse Theater, 5460 Trumpeter Road Columbia, MD 21044. They have not yet named a successor to Jason Love, and therefore, have not announced the music for the 2023-24 season. Check out their website for news of the new Musical Director and Conductor and upcoming events.
Read Susan Brall’s final interview with Jason Love.