|Gemma New conducts the orchestra and chorus|
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
As was the case last year, Resident Conductor Gemma New was the conductor and MC. Back then I wrote that I was very taken with her elegant and fluid style on the podium and her charm as the evening's host, and I see no reason to change that opinion now. She has both the musical and PR aspects of the proceedings firmly under control.
As is usually the case with the holiday show, the evening was a mix of familiar classics and seasonal songs. Whit Richert's irrepressible Santa made his usual appearance, bringing out a child from the audience to "conduct" the orchestra in Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," and the evening concluded with "A Holly Jolly Sing-Along."
|Soprano Camille Zamora|
Photo by Liron Amsellem
The Holiday Festival Chorus, composed of singers from local high schools, was in fine form as always but here, too, there was a new wrinkle in the form of 20th century German composer Franz Biebl's popular "Ave Maria." Chorus director Kevin McBeth took a leaf from the book of the Venetian polychoral master Giovanni Gabrielli by putting some of his singers (members of the Pattonville High School Choir) upstairs in front of the dress circle. The antiphonal effect was striking from our seats in the Dress Circle boxes; from the orchestra floor it must have been like hearing the angels sing.
Mr. McBeth sang the introductory verse of the piece himself from his perch in front of the upstairs choir. That, too, was a first, at least for me. I'd never had the chance to hear him sing before.
The more familiar numbers included a couple of my favorites: Leroy Anderson's "A Christmas Festival" and the "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy" from "The Nutcracker," with an impeccable celesta solo by Peter Henderson. I have loved the Anderson piece since I played the trombone part in my high school orchestra. I dare anyone not to smile at the finale, which combines "Adeste Fideles," "Joy to the World," and "Jingle Bells" in clever counterpoint.
Holiday events continue for the rest of December with "Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert" on Friday and Saturday, December 28 and 29 and the "BMO Private Bank New Year's Eve Celebration on the 31st. The Disney event has only "limited view" tickets at this time. All concerts take place at Powell Symphony Hall in Grand Center.