"It’s a Wonderful Night"
12/10/2010 - & December 11*, 12, 17, 18, 19, 2010
Christmas and Holiday Season Compositions:
Adolphe Adam: O Holy Night (arr. by Todd Wilson)
Georg Friderich Händel: Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah
Johann Strauss Jr: Die Fledermaus (overture)
Irving Berlin: A White Christmas (arr. by Randol A. Bass)
Randol Alan Bass: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas
And: O Come, Emmanuel (Arr. by Alice Parker), Ding, Dong! Merrily on High (Arr. by Stephen Mager), In dulci jubilo (Arr. by Leroy Anderson), O Little Town of Bethlehem (Arr. by Leroy Anderson), Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, Patapan (Arr. by Leroy Anderson), The Wexford Carol (Arr. by Mack Wilberg), Sussex Carol (Arr. by Barlow Bradford), O Come, All Ye Faithful (Arr. David Willcocks), Spirit of the Season (Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri), The Twelve Days of Christmas (Arr. by John Rutter), Sleigh Ride (Leroy Anderson)
The Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, members of the Cleveland State University Chorale, and members of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus, Robert Porco (Conductor, December 10 through 18), James Feddeck (Conductor, December 19)
The Cleveland orchestra & Chorus (© R. Mastroianni)
A long-standing tradition, the Cleveland Orchestra fills Severance Hall for these performances with concert goers of all generations- the littlest ones in their holiday dress clothes holding tightly to their grandparents' hands as they climb the stairs to the main floor. The lovely Christmas trees in the staircases and lobby are echoed by the huge ornaments hung across the top of the proscenium and the “stained glass” Christmas tree and Snowman affixed in the tiny balconies overlooking the sides of the stage.
The concert opened on a quiet note with “O Come, Emmanuel”, lights coming up from a total black-out as the bells were struck. Harmonies were tight and the chorus held its own with the full orchestra, but as they moved into “Ding, Dong! Merrily on High” and some of the other carols which utilized both chorus and orchestra, it was evident that Mr. Porco was more at home dealing with the vocal section and the instrumentalists reverted to full volume, rendering the voices lost in the mix.
The Cleveland Orchestra, one of the finest in the world, has some excellent musicians, and the string and woodwind sections were spot on this evening. Although the brass section was featured on one carol and had several solos on others, the trumpets just couldn’t seem to get it right, pinching and often hitting very loud and evident wrong notes.
Maestro Porco has a delightful way of involving the audience in the performance, explaining the history of the piece, composer or arranger, or inviting people to sing a solo line or join in the group sing alongs. He chose two rare songs, Sussex Carol in a wonderful arrangement and The Wexford Carol from Ireland. The latter featured local baritone Brian Keith Johnson, whose voice, unfortunately, wasn’t large enough to project over the orchestra, but which had Mary Kay Fink, the noted piccolo player, playing the Irish Whistle. Ms.Fink’s playing was spectacular, with a haunting, mystical sound that soared out into the hall, making a lengthy piece seem all too brief.
The first half of the concert ended with the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, the audience jumping to its feet at the first notes, following the tradition set by Britain’s King George VI.
Part two opened with the Overture to Die Fledermaus where the strings were lovely and bright, the percussion section excelled and which featured solos by the oboe, flute and bassoon, all of which were perfection.
In a different vein was ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, the traditional poem by Clement Moore, set to music by Randol Alan Bass. It was narrated by Reuben and Dorothy Silver, who have had a long professional relationship with the Cleveland Orchestra, serving as co-narrators and script writers for the educational concerts among other things. This section was lovely, the Silver’s bringing the words to life and the orchestra supporting and swelling around them.
A surprise visitor interrupted the set: Santa Claus strolled down the aisle to have a chat with Maestro Porco, cracking jokes about the absent LeBron James (guess WHO will be getting a load of coal in his Christmas stocking courtesy of the Cleveland fans?!), “elf care”, Wiki Leaks, Bristol Palin and Glee, the TV show. This led into The Twelve Days of Christmas, in which audience members were invited to step to the microphone and have a solo go at singing the “five gold rings” line. Most of the intrepid souls were terrible and Mr. Porco let them know it, but two members of the North Coast Chorus did their group proud and garnered a round of applause for their efforts!
Throughout the concert, the people running the light board gave us a visual treat, washing the stage in colors of blue, red or green and projecting everything from holly leaves and bells to falling snow on walls surrounding the orchestra and chorus. It was well planned, well timed and exceptionally lovely.
It’s easy to understand why so many hands were raised when the question “How many of you have been to our Christmas Concerts before?” was asked. Severance Hall is filled for all nine of the concerts, with the Children’s Chorus also performing at two of the weekend matinees.
Well trained choruses and a world-class orchestra were just the gift I needed to put me in the holiday mood!
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