Review: ‘Celebrations!’ Columbia Pro Cantare Celebrates 40-Year Anniversary at Jim Rouse Theatre

Columbia Pro Cantare celebrated a few occasions with its final performance of the Season with Celebrations! If you will note, Celebrations! is plural, because it not only marked the 40th Anniversary of Columbia Pro Cantare (CPC), but the 20th Anniversary of the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School and the 50th Anniversary of Columbia. Sunday night they joined again with renowned baritone Lester Lynch who masterfully narrated Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait which was performed by CPC in 1987. Copland wrote this piece during World War II and its premiere was May 14, 1942. This Copland work was consistent with his American themes with “sampling” from Stephen Foster. The narration contained stirring words from several of Lincoln’s speeches and ending with the last line of the Gettysburg Address. Lynch’s resonant voice was perfectly matched to the text.

Baritone Lester Lynch. Photo courtesy of Pro Cantare.

The chorus also performed two other Copland pieces from his Old American Songs which were written by the Brooklyn-born son of immigrant. These songs were quite familiar as they have been used as part of television and movie themes since they were performed first in 1950 in England. The two songs that were chosen for the night’s performance were “Simple Gifts,” a Shaker com.munity song by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848 and “The Boatman’s Dance” a minstrel song by Dan Emmett circa 1843. The arrangements for these songs were by another American composer, Irving Fine. CPC’s rendition was, as usual, lyrical and in keeping with the American texture of the two numbers.

Before intermission, CPC preformed a cantata, “I Build a House,” composed by Howard County resident and Peabody Professor, Dr. Tom Benjamin. This piece was originally commissioned and performed by CPC in 1997 at the opening of the Jim Rouse Theatre. This piece that has four movements had a distinct American flavor as well. Tom Benjamin was present on Sunday to hear this moving interpretation of his music by CPC and Mr. Lynch.

After the intermission Lynch sang several spirituals from his new CD, On My Journey Now. If there was a voice made to sing “Amazing Grace,” it is probably his. It was extremely moving. For Mothers’ Day he chose one of the few spirituals that are about mothers, due to the fact many slaves were separated from their families. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,”again . conveyed the sadness of the composer.

Lynch livened things up with the more upbeat “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” Finally, rejoined by the chorus, he sang “Glory Hallelujah” and they could not have chosen more rousing song to end this night of Celebration!

Founder and Director of CPC, Frances Motyca Dawson masterfully conducted the chorus, Mr. Lynch and the Howard County Concert Orchestra, along with concertmaster, Ronald Mutchnik. HCCO is yet another wonderfully talented local performing arts group.

Celebrations! was a firecracker concert ending another spectacular season.

Howard County and Columbia continue to be treasure troves of performing arts groups. Pro Cantare continues to be their cultured pearl.

Pro Cantare’s Celebrations! played for one-night-only on Sunday, May 14, 2017, at the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts – 5460 Trumpeter Road, in Columbia, MD. Pro Cantare will be back with many fine concerts starting with “Carmine Burana” on October 21, 2017, and, their perennial favorite, “Handel’s Messiah,” on December 3, 2017. For further information on their 2017-2018 concerts, visit their website.


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