For many, seeing the symphony is like going to church — there are plenty of opportunities throughout the year to go, but the crowds really show up on Christmas and Easter. Christmas concerts promise carols, hymns and other well-known pieces because that is what people are dying to hear this time of year. I, for one, am the girl who turns on the 24/7 Christmas radio station on November 29 and keeps it going through early January, because the 25th is just too soon to cut everything off so abruptly. So you can imagine my delight when I attended the Central Ohio Symphony‘s Holiday Concert this past Sunday at Gray Chapel on Ohio Wesleyan University’s campus.
Maestro Jaime Morales-Matos assembled a program with a range of traditional to funky pieces and everywhere in between. The concert also featured two guest artists, vocalist Dwight Lenox and pianist Bradley Sowash. The opening piece was a beautifully arranged compilation of “Frosty the Snowman,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The entire piece, titled “Christmas Memories” invoked a number of emotions within it — one minute you’re feeling a bit whimsy with a classic and then you get an attack of jazz and big band roots.
Another compilation piece, titled “A Christmas Festival,” by Leroy Anderson added eight more traditional carols to the rest that the COS had already performed. “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Silent Night” (in addition to an earlier “Silent Night” sing-along), “Jingle Bells,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which introduced a booming chord on the beautiful (newly re-dedicated) organ that brought down the house. I swear I felt that final chord from my toes to the tips of my hair. It was phenomenal.
“The Blue Danube” or “An der schönen blauen Donau” was an exquisite feature of the symphony. With the flowing rhythms and tempos it was easy to start to imagine yourself traveling along the Danube river through Vienna, Austria.
Mr. Lenox’s vocals were a true treat to the ears. He brought a smooth soul and sweet jazz to his premiered new arrangements of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” A new song that you may hear this holiday season also debuted on Sunday called “Bending Toward the Light” performed by Mr. Lenox and arranged by Alan Klinect.
The “Radestzky March” had the audience clapping along, “The Christmas Song” could’ve soothed a crying baby, and “March of the Toys” sent my mind back to Disney’s 1961 “Babes in Toyland” with Annette Funicello (if you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to check it out – the Library has a copy available). However, none of those could have prepared me for the genius that is Bradley Sowash and his jazz-inspired compositions and arrangements. Mr. Sowash premiered an arrangement of “Patapan” that sounded like it was taken down to the French Quarter of N’awlins. It shook the house, it was gritty, and it offered a great feature of the brass section and drums. The ending was so strong that an audience member could not contain himself and exclaimed “Hey, now!” in approval before applause erupted.
“Advent from the Spirit of Christmas 2” was another original Bradley Sowash piece that was performed and kept the same jazz/pop roots of the others as a variation on “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The final Sowash piece was just some good, old-fashioned fun. If Jimmy Buffet and Dixieland had a baby, it would be Mr. Sowash’s arrangement of “What Child is This?” The orchestra began with the simple main theme with some chromatic undertones, then broke off into a bass riff, drums and Mr. Sowash on piano with a Havana/tropical-inspired section that culminated in one giant jazz explosion.
The concert was unique, entertaining, magical, and everything that a Holiday Concert should be. I hope you are able to enjoy their next performance, Sunday, March 23 of one of the most immortal pieces in music, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.