Longtime conductor moves on
Although Jason Love, 52, will be stepping down after 24 years as music director of the Columbia Orchestra, he intends to keep his music career moving in several directions, including more cello recitals, further composing and exploring ways to film musical events.
“Columbia has been my dream job,” Love said in a recent interview with the Beacon. “I loved being with the orchestra. We were always trying new things and always growling artistically, and I hope they have been as inspired by me as I have been by them.”
During Love’s career at the Columbia Orchestra, it has more than doubled in size, to 90 musicians. Now in its 45th season, the community orchestra performs 11 classical concerts a year, with a recent addition of a couple of concerts featuring jazz musicians.
After nearly a quarter of a century with the musicians at Columbia, Love said, “I feel that I have gotten pretty good at what I do…But on the other hand, so many artists say that if you are going to do your best work, you have to force yourself away from what you know — you have to take away the safety net.”
Love’s full-time orchestral job has meant “not being able to devote time” to his other musical interests, like playing the cello.
But, he said, while directing the orchestra was “almost all I could do with my time, I have absolutely no regrets about that.”
A popular community orchestra
The Columbia Orchestra was organized in the fall of 1977 and has performed throughout Howard County for more than four decades.
Originally known as the Columbia Chamber Orchestra, it expanded in 1988 to include wind and percussion instruments. Under Love’s direction, it was named by the Baltimore Sun “Howard County’s premier ensemble for instrumental music.”
The orchestra reportedly reaches more than 1,000 concert-goers yearly. Its all-volunteer, non-paid members include some musicians who also perform for a salary with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and D.C.’s National Symphony Orchestra.
But most have nine-to-five jobs in other fields. “This is essentially a community orchestra,” Love explained. “Its members basically come from Howard and surrounding counties.
“Since many of its voluntary members work as full-time engineers, we say there is a connection between mathematics and science in the orchestra’s music.”
New jazz focus
During the 2016-2017 season, the orchestra expanded its musical offerings beyond symphony orchestra and chamber concerts to also include jazz.
These performances were made possible by bringing the Columbia Jazz Band, under the Columbia Orchestra umbrella as a partner organization, to present its jazz series in tandem with the Columbia Orchestra’s other programs.
The Columbia Jazz Band has been presenting modern jazz since 1989, performing at venues such as the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Rockville and the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland.
Since 2017, it has been directed by jazz pianist and brass musician Fred Hughes, who has performed, conducted and presented jazz workshops nationally and internationally for more than three decades.
Love noted the importance of jazz and its influence on classical music, and vice-versa. “The language of jazz and the language of classical music have influenced one another,” he pointed out.
For instance, The Creation of the World, a ballet by Darius Milhaud written in 1920, was influenced by jazz. The French composer made a special trip to the United States to hear the early musical form.
It worked the other way, too. George Gershwin took a break from composing jazz and pop hits to study classical music. He released “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1924 and a year later composed “Piano Concerto in F Major.”
Picking up the cello again
While Love did perform some cello recitals during his conducting years, he hopes to play more with the bow when he puts down the wand.
Love began playing the cello back in his North Carolina public school days, then moved with the instrument to the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
He graduated from there in 1994 with a master of arts in orchestral conducting. Five years later, at the ripe young age of 28, he was appointed conductor of the Columbia Orchestra.
“My desire now is to give more cello,” Love said. “My cello heroes? Well, one of them was Leonard Rose, playing in trios and quartets. He had a beautiful sound.”
As for his favorite composers?
“Of course Beethoven, who pretty much drove me into a musical career; Mahler, who I pretty much fell in love with — and, on the pop side, Ravel, who is very much underrated as a serious composer,” Love said.
“[Ravel] has written a lot of in-depth pieces with a different approach to harmony that people don’t know about. His ‘Sonata for Violin and Cello’ is one of my favorite pieces, but you don’t hear it played much.”
Last two concerts
There are two last chances to see Love conducting the Columbia Orchestra. The season’s official finale will be May 20 at the Jim Rouse Theater, when the Columbia Orchestra plays an all-American program of Aaron Copeland’s Symphony No.3, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Umoja, Anthem of Liberty by Valerie Coleman.
Love and the orchestra will wind up with soon-to-be scheduled “mostly American” concert June 11 at the St. Louis Parish Church in Clarksville.
When Love’s orchestra members asked him what he plans to do next, he told them, “I really need time to think about next steps, to have some time to be quiet and listen,” he said.
“My first priority is to take some time to learn and observe and think about where the next 24 years will take me.
“Not knowing is scary,” Love said, “but it’s exciting, too.”
For tickets and showtimes, visit columbiaorchestra.org or call (410) 465-8777.