Orchestra of St. John's set to waltz in the New Year

Most of us have packed away the holiday decorations, but there's at least one more excuse to celebrate the season. Howard County's first all-professional chamber orchestra, the Orchestra of St. John's, is performing a Viennese New Year's Celebration on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 4 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

"This is the sort of concert that was always done around New Year's in Vienna," said the orchestra's founding artistic director, Ronald Mutchnik. "It's cold and so people want reminders of springtime in order to lift their spirits."


Mutchnik's group did a similar program last January, and its sold-out status prompted him to once again ring in the new year in Viennese style.

"We hope to make it an annual tradition, like Columbia Pro Cantare's 'Messiah' (every December). It helps get people through the dreary weather of January. It extends the holiday and does not compete with the New Year's Eve parties," he said of this mid-January concert.

Mutchnik promises there will be more than colorful music. When Johann Strauss' waltz "Roses from the South" is played, for instance, it will be backed by videos showing rose gardens in Howard County; and the same composer's waltz "On the Blue Danube" will be accompanied by videos showing Centennial Lake and Wilde Lake.

Strauss waltzes are to a Viennese New Year's concert what Dick Clark is to the ball dropping in Times Square, so it's reassuring to see this 19th-century composer so generously represented on the program. Indeed, his father, Johann Strauss Sr., also checks in with his "Radetzky March." Mutchnik jokingly notes about this near-obligatory march: "You could not do a New Year's concert without it."

If the Strauss family traditionally seems to have a lock on such programs, what's striking about the upcoming concert is that it also looks beyond Austria's borders.

The other cultures sampled include the late-19th-century American ragtime composer Scott Joplin, here represented by a waltz, "Bethena," named for his wife. Originally composed for the piano, this piece has been transcribed for a string quartet by Mutchnik, who is himself a violinist.

The eclectic offerings include waltz-oriented pieces by Delibes and Offenbach; Juventino Rosas' waltz "Over the Waves," which Mutchnik says the audience will recognize as the music typically heard when Disney characters are bopped on the head and see stars; and Hans Christian Lumbye's fast and festive "Champagne Gallop," which should make the audience anticipate the post-concert champagne and chocolate reception.

Besides all of the musical selections and accompanying video footage, there also will be dancers from the Howard County Ballet to further bring the music alive. Serving as narrator for what promises to be a very busy program is WBJC-FM announcer Mark Malinowski.

Since its founding in 2008, this chamber orchestra has done its part to make the Howard County classical concert calendar even busier. Performing music from the Baroque period through to the present, the orchestra has a three-concert season.

"We thought that Howard County is a fairly well-off community that would support a small orchestra. A chamber orchestra is the right size," said Mutchnik, adding that there is a lot of repertory for such ensembles.


Mutchnik's upcoming program, for example, proves that you don't have to be named Strauss in order to compose a waltz.

The Orchestra of St. John's performs a Viennese New Year's Celebration on Sunday, Jan. 15, at 4 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, at 9120 Frederick Road in Ellicott City. Tickets are $25, and an additional $5 for the reception; those 17 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. Call 410-461-7793 or go to