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Concert Review – Home for the Holidays

09 Dec 2014, Posted by admin in Concert Review, News

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Ah, the Christmas concert! Redolent of the scent of winter pine, the taste of eggnog and the icy jolt of wind through the front door!

Although the malls have been recycling taped Christmas tunes for the last month, the way to properly kick off the Christmas season is with a concert of seasonal music and the communal singing of carols. That’s what a packed house enjoyed at Peterborough Symphony Orchestra’s December 6 concert at Showplace; Home for the Holidays, with the Peterborough Pop Ensemble and the Kawartha Youth Orchestra as special guests.

The PSO managed to pack so much music, and so many performers, onto the stage on Saturday that it is hard to do it justice. So, a few highlights.

The soulful beauty of those first notes of the horns of the Prelude to Hansel and Gretel were outstanding! What a lovely way to begin the concert! In fact, the horns and winds were really notable during the first half of the concert. What we heard was a very skilled ensemble of very talented musicians who aren’t large in number, but boundless in sound and influence. Always a pleasure to listen to.

What is Christmas without the Nutcracker? It is a tradition for many to gather around the television for a ballet version of Tchaikovsky’s old favourite. If the annual ballet extravaganza is a stuffed turkey dinner with all the fixins, the  Nutcracker Suite No. 1 is an artfully arranged plate of hors d’oeuvres and a festive glass of bubbly!

The bright and airy presentation of eight miniature segments was like hearing the old favourite anew. The Dance of the Sugar-plum Fairies, with Douglas Schalin on the celeste, was magically delightful! The winds and French horns were stars of the Arabian and Chinese Dances and the Danse des mirlitons and contrasted with the deep rich brasses of the Russian Dance.

Music Director Michael Newnham described the Waltz of the Flowers as “one of the greatest waltzes of all times” and it was a beautiful ensemble piece with long flowing lines of spun sugar! What a showpiece for the strings!

The Peterborough Pop Ensemble made its fourth concert appearance with the PSO and began with another very traditional Christmas sound, the iconic music of John Rutter. The 17-member ensemble of excellent voices performed I Wish You Christmas and Candlelight Carol. I particularly enjoyed the Vaughn William Christmas medley of Little Town of Bethlehem, Wassail Song and Sussex Carol, which was very, very nicely done with orchestra and choir.

They bring a confident pop sensibility to the concert which works well with the orchestra and the choice of Christmas selections. And where they really show their stuff is in the a capella selections where they can really let loose.

See Amid the Winter Snow is one of my favourite carols and, unaccompanied, the its beauty and simplicity really shone through. Have You Heard the News and Not that Far from Bethlehem were fine gospel-infused crowd pleasers and the singers cheerily bopped along to a fine arrangement of Deck the Halls.

Members of the Kawartha Youth Orchestra joined the PSO after the intermission, and when the singers were on stage as well, it was quite a crowd of about 70 performers. The KYO had its followers in the audience and another generation of parents had the pleasure of seeing their children present a Christmas concert.

Already a family affair, PSO and KSO music director Michael Newnham and Zuzanna Chomicka-Newham, PSO principal cello, were joined on stage by Alina Newnham, viola, and Gabriella Newnham, bassoon, from the KYO!

Together the two orchestras performed Johann Strauss Jr.’s Roses from the South, which was indeed, as it was said, evocative of New Year’s Day in Vienna. The strings swirled and danced around, while audience members swayed back and forth to the 1-2-3, 1-2-3 rhythm.  How proud those parents must have been!

Note was made at the concert that sponsors Swish Maintenance (Lead Sponsor) and Gracie, Monkman & Johnston supported the PSO’s Community Ticketing Program, making 90 tickets available to organizations such as the New Canadians Centre, Habitat for Humanity and the Alzheimer’s Society – so that they could make a gift of music to their volunteers, clients and staff to enjoy the evening’s concert.

There was another medley near the end of the concert and, by then, I was feeling I’d had just about enough Christmas music. But the orchestra and choir (including the brass musicians who were finally let loose) raised the roof with Do You Hear what I Hear to the satisfaction of everyone else present! It was a joyful noise, indeed.

We were all invited to sing The First Nowell and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, for which performance we were complimented by Maestro Newnham!

The rousing finish was Johann Strauss Sr.’s Radetsky March, accompanied by audience clapping, conducted, from pianissimo to as forte as possible, by Mr. Newnham! It met with very enthusiastic applause, whistling, shouting and foot stomping! And we all well and truly felt that Christmas had indeed been ushered in!

– Karen Hicks, Guest blogger & Concert Reviewer