Thursday, December 11, 2014

Symphony Preview: The concerts of Christmas present

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The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will be delivering Christmas presents for St. Louis audiences throughout the month of December. Let's sneak downstairs and take a peek under the wrapping, shall we?

The Flying Wallendas
December 12-14: A Winter Fable with Circus Flora - Music has always been a part of the Circus Flora experience, so the partnership with the symphony isn’t as unusual as it might seem. This is, in fact, the orchestra's fourth team-up with our much-loved local circus; the last one was "A Child's Christmas in Wales" two years ago.

As always, the combination of music and circus acts has a story line to hold everything together. This time it's a fairy tale "set in the High Tatras mountains, in the ancient and beautiful Kingdom of the Spiís." There's a magic spell, a princess and (because it's a circus) a horse, along with trained dogs. The Flying Wallendas will be on hand with their legendary high-wire act, along with the popular St. Louis Arches and, of course Theatre Director Cecil MacKinnon as Yo-Yo, the Narrator.

Symphony Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi leads the orchestra in a program with a heavy Eastern European and Russian flavor. Dvořák is heavily favored, along with Bartók, Glinka, Janáček, Ippolitov-Ivanov and that other hyphenated Russian, Rimsky-Korsakov. There are also some Brahms "Hungarian Dances," along with Berlioz's "Hungarian March" from "The Damnation of Faust."

Kevin McBeth
December 18: Kevin McBeth leads the IN UNISON® Chorus in "A Gospel Christmas" – Best-selling singer/songwriter Oleta Adams and her band are the guest soloists in a program that features many of her original compositions along with Gospel favorites and popular Christmas tunes. There's even a soulful version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from "Handel's Messiah: a Soulful Celebration" by Paul David Wilson.

Celebrating its 20th season with the SLSO, the IN UNISON® Chorus is "an all-volunteer, 120-voice auditioned ensemble that performs a variety of musical styles, with a focus on the interpretation, performance, and preservation of the music of African-American and African cultures." Kevin McBeth, who became director of the chorus in 2011, is Director of Music at Manchester United Methodist Church and serves as full-time administrator for the Music Ministry, which includes 18 choral and handbell ensembles, involving nearly 500 youngsters and adults.  NOTE: as of Friday, December 12, this concert is sold out, but standing room tickets are still available.

December 19-21: The Macy's Holiday Celebration – Steven Jarvi conducts the orchestra and Holiday Festival Chorus (consisting of students from local schools and colleges conducted by Kevin McBeth) in a program of traditional carols and seasonal pop songs. Featured soloists are musical theater star Chelsea Packard and local television personality Charles Brennan, who will narrate Randol Alan Bass's musical setting of "The Night Before Christmas."

There's also a "Holiday Sing-Along", music from the films "Polar Express" and "It's A Wonderful Life," and the annual "surprise" visit from Santa (usually played by the ever-charming Whit Richert). "Pops" events like this are usually big moneymakers for the orchestra and great fun as well. Only a dedicated Scrooge could complain.

The Bach Society at Powell Hall
December 23: The Bach Society Christmas Candlelight Concert – A. Dennis Sparger conducts the Bach Society Chorus along with members of the SLSO, the St. Louis Children's Choirs, and soloists Jane Jennings (soprano), Debra Hillabrand (mezzo), and Don Frazure (tenor).This is usually a more classically-oriented program, although favorite carols and an audience sing-along are included as well.

The "candlelight" refers to the opening of the second half of the concert. The lights dim, and the members of the Bach Society walk down the aisles singing, each with an electric candle. If you're lucky enough to be sitting downstairs in the orchestra section, you find yourself surrounded by singers - some carrying the melody, some harmony, enveloping you in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of sound. Charles Ives would have loved it. It's a St. Louis tradition and every music lover should get to experience it at least once.

This isn't an SLSO event, but symphony musicians are involved and it does take place in Powell Hall, so I figured it's fair game for this article.

There are other special concerts at Powell after Christmas. I'll give you a look at the in my next preview article.

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