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Saturday, 22 December 2012 13:44

Concert review: Symphony Orchestra and Holiday Festival Chorus shine in Christmas pops at Powell Hall, Friday through Sunday, December 21-23

Concert review: Symphony Orchestra and Holiday Festival Chorus shine in Christmas pops at Powell Hall, Friday through Sunday, December 21-23 stlsymphony,org
Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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The tradition of the holiday “pops” program is a well-established one with orchestras these days, and Friday night’s concert was just what you’d expect: yuletide classics, a guest performer (pop vocalist Debby Boone), and a visit from St. Nick himself. Ms. Boone, alas, was unwell, but the area high school and college students of the 138-voice Holiday Festival Chorus sounded just fine and Ward Stare led the orchestra with is usual panache.

The program was a light one, featuring some charming and inventive chorus and orchestra arrangements of traditional carols by Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg. His delicate version of “Silent Night” was especially lovely. We also got two delightful orchestral collections of carols: Jeff Tyzik’s (“Holiday Moods Suite II”) and my personal favorite, Leroy Anderson’s “Christmas Festival”, with its ingenious finale combining “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells.”

Mr. Stare conducted all of this with the same care and attention to detail he lavished on the one core “classical” piece on the program, the “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker”. Even the lightest of “light classics” benefits from a fully committed performance, after all.

Symphony IN UNISON® Chorus director Kevin McBeth clearly put in a lot of work with his young singers, and it showed in their generally polished sound and clear diction. They had a bit of difficulty making all the lyrics of Frederick Silver’s hilarious “The Twelve Days After Christmas” clear, but that would be a challenge even for a professional ensemble.

Debby Boone’s two sets were a bit dull but, as she noted several times, she was fighting laryngitis and (I assume) either a bad cold or the flu. As a singer of sorts myself, I can only sympathize; it’s difficult to perform when you feel like hell. Unfortunately, when you’re the solo performer there’s no understudy, so you just have to soldier on. The audience was sympathetic, in any case, which is much to their credit.

The segment with Santa (Whit Reichert, in one of his usual exceptional performances) was cute, including a bit in which the jolly old elf “conducted” the orchestra in Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and engaged in some byplay with Mr. Stare. It was also short, recalling Polonius’s comment that brevity is the soul of wit.

The symphony's "Holiday Celebration" program repeats Saturday at 2 and 7 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, December 22 and 23. Next on the calendar: a showing of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, with the score performed live by the orchestra and the men’s chorus conducted by Richard Kaufman. Performances are Friday through Sunday, December 28-30. The symphony concludes the year, as always, with a New Year’s Eve concert under the baton of David Robertson. For ticket information: stlsymphony.org

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