December 2012 Issue
A Joyful Noise
Visit one of these magnificent concert halls and hear the sounds of the season.
Joyous and jolly. Sentimental and sacred.
Holiday tunes cross all genres and cultures, as they promote peace on earth and goodwill toward everyone.
Across Ohio, symphonies, orchestras and choruses are ushering in the season with concerts guaranteed to make your days — and nights — be merry and bright.
For the record, there’s nothing like “Home for the Holidays.”
Just ask Cincinnati Pops Orchestra conductor John Morris Russell, who’s celebrating his second year as conductor of the acclaimed ensemble and looking forward to this year’s Yuletide concerts.
“The cool thing about the season and the music is that it’s all about peace, joy, hope and love,” the maestro muses.
And that includes the aforementioned new CD — Russell’s first recording since officially being handed the Pops baton in September 2011. But to the conductor, “Home for the Holidays” is more than a poignant homage to the songs we know by heart. It nostalgically honors the Christmas LPs produced annually by Ohio’s Goodyear and Firestone tire companies in the 1960s.
“Every year, my dad would buy the records when he went to get the snow tires mounted on our car,” Russell reminisces. “His arrival home with them served as the official beginning of the season for my family.”
The conductor’s reverence for those compilations is clearly captured in “Home for the Holidays.” The CD features 15 selections, ranging from the sacred “O Holy Night,” sung by opera tenor Rod-rick Dixon, to the lilting “Sleigh Ride,” featuring Pops pianist Julie Spangler. Russell adapted “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” for Broadway soloist Brian Stokes Mitchell. (The maestro’s 10-year-old daughter, Alma, lends her voice to this endearing prose, based on an editorial that appeared in the New York Sun
in 1897.) Orchestrator Timothy Berens and Pops violinist Timothy Lees offer a stirring nod to The Festival of Lights with “A Winter Miracle,” which blends Vivaldi’s “Winter” and the traditional “Hanukkah O Hanukkah” into a seamless tribute.
With “Home for the Holidays” garnering accolades (the album earned 16th place on the Billboard charts when it debuted in September), the conductor is turning his attention to the Holiday Pops concerts, which take place Dec. 7–9 at Music Hall.
Although the program’s particulars remained under wraps at presstime, Russell is thrilled about who’ll be sharing the stage with the orchestra this year: Grammy Award-winning, country superstar Amy Grant.
Needless to say, Music Hall’s majesty complements the holiday cheer. At this time of year, the 134-year-old Gothic Revival beauty is resplendent with 1,500 twinkle lights, 50 poinsettia plants, eight decorated fir trees and a snow machine filled with 50 pounds of the white stuff.
“It’s absolutely breathtaking,” Russell marvels. “You can’t help but get into the spirit the minute you walk through the door.”
For ticket information, call 513/381-3300 or visit cincinnatipops.org
. To purchase the “Home for the Holidays” CD, click on “Store” at the bottom of the orchestra’s Web site.
A Family Affair
It’s no wonder bassist Henry Peyrebrune beams with pride when he talks about the Cleveland Orchestra.
After all, who wouldn’t be thrilled to play in the ensemble that Time magazine called “the best band in the land.” But that’s not the only reason the orchestra’s annual Christmas concerts — Dec. 14–23 this year — tug at his heartstrings: Peyrebrune’s daughters, Suzie, 15, and Claire, 13, sing in the orchestra’s youth and children’s choruses, respectively.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to look over and see my girls on stage, sharing the joys of these beautiful songs with me,” says the 48-year-old musician, who’s been with the orchestra since 1997.
And, like so many of the concertgoers he plays for, Peyrebrune connects the music he makes to warm memories of childhood. He recalls with fondness the holiday parties his parents hosted back in Albany, New York, when he was a youngster.
“Our whole house would be full of people,” the bassist recalls. “We’d go out and sing carols around the neighborhood, and then come back home and sing some more.”
Which is why the sing-along portion of each concert is Peyrebrune’s favorite. It is part of a program filled with classics old and new. Selections range from “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to “Sleigh Ride,” and “The Christmas Song,” a number he’s particularly fond of.
“I played in a Boston Pops show with Mel Torme a few years back, when he said, ‘Now, I’ll do a medley of all my biggest hits.’ Then, he proceeded to sing, ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. …’” Peyrebrune recalls. “It’s really the only song Torme is known for,” the instrumentalist adds, chuckling at the star’s joke. “And Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it.”
The splendor of Severance Hall adds to the festive ambiance. Completed in 1931, the building is an exquisite mixture of Art Deco, French Nouveau, Classicism, Egyptian Revival and Modernism design. During the holidays, the stage is adorned with 4,000 lights and a fir trimmed with seven giant hand-crafted ornaments, each taking eight to 10 hours to make. Every year, 16,000 patrons look forward to the concerts, which date back to 1957.
“The Christmas audience is a special audience,” Peyrebrune reflects. “It’s a pleasure,” he adds, “to play for them.”
For ticket information, call 216/231-1111 or visit clevelandorchestra.com. Make a $20 donation to the orchestra and receive “Spirit of the Season,” a CD of music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra and Orchestra Chorus. Visit clevelandorchestra.com/about/chorus-christmas-CDs.aspx
Tried and True, Old and New
Even as autumn leaves were falling, Ronald Jenkins was making a list and checking it twice — well, actually a dozen or more times — to make sure the Columbus Symphony and Chorus Holiday Pops concert playlists were just right. The performances have ushered in the capital city’s Christmas season for 29 years.
“It’s a balance,” the conductor explains, “between making sure the audience gets what they bought a ticket for — the wonderful experience of hearing serious music and popular music and music that gives you a warm heart when you walk out — and offering something fresh that will stretch their classical ear.
“The most difficult part is finding new pieces that will challenge the orchestra and chorus and enrich the audience,” adds Jenkins, as he describes the content of the concerts taking place Nov. 30–Dec. 2 in the historic Ohio Theatre.
The 2012 stage is set with the opening notes of “Holiday Pops Overture,” a medley of Christmas tunes written by Columbus composer Craig Courtney. It’s been a signature piece since 2000.
Worlds of culture are explored throughout the program, most poignantly with Pavel Chesnokov’s “Spaseniye Sodelal (Salvation is Created),” a Russian work featuring the men of the chorus; and Ottorino Respighi’s “Adoration of the Magi,” which Jenkins calls “a musical description” of the magnificent Sandro Botticelli painting depicting the three kings’ journey to Bethlehem following Christ’s birth.
“For us, it’s really important to honor the other religious season that’s going on: Hanukkah,” the maestro adds. A fitting tribute for the sacred Jewish observance was penned by Michael Isaacson, founding artistic director of the Israel Pops Orchestra. His contemporary “Light the Legend” is an upbeat piece about the oil that did not run dry.
The symphony and chorus offer plenty of opportunities for audiences to get in on the act by giving them the chance to sing out during renditions of “The First Noel” and other favorites. Dancers from BalletMet and Wright State University get creative with their high-stepping version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“People come with their eyes as well as their ears. We make sure the show is constantly evolving — that there’s always something to see as well as hear,” Jenkins says.
The Ohio Theatre helps fulfill that promise. Opened in 1928 as a movie palace, the Spanish-Baroque masterpiece is decorated with 200 feet of garland and towering fir trees soaring to 15 feet in the lobby and 12 feet on stage.
It’s easy to see why Jenkins will end each concert with a performance of the Andy Williams’ hit, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” For the conductor, it truly is.
or call 614/228-8600 for more information.
WHILE YOU'RE IN TOWN
Make it a weekend to remember with these entertaining options:
A Christmas Story House and Museum was a main set for the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.” Among the memorabilia showcased are Randy’s snowsuit, the chalkboard from Miss Shields’ classroom and the family car. Don’t forget to visit the museum gift shop to pick up your own Major Award Leg Lamp. achristmasstoryhouse.com
“Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times” features the most comprehensive collection of ancient artifacts from Israel ever organized, including one of the largest collections of the priceless 2,000-year-old scrolls. cincymuseum.org
The work of renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz is showcased at Wexner Center for the Arts. The retrospective features the celebrity portraits she’s captured for Rolling Stone magazine. wexarts.org