The Dec. 9 holiday concerts of the Central Ohio Symphony once again met and exceeded the expectations of the audience. In addition to tried-and-proven oldies-but-goodies, there were also several pleasant surprises, creating a healthy balance between the old and the new, between tradition and innovation.
The concert started with a 40-second fanfare to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Symphony. The commissioned piece, a world premiere, was written by none other than David Hejmanowski, a local Delaware County judge. He says, he has written pieces for solo piano in the past, but never a full-fledged orchestral score. With help from “orchestrator” Tim Olt, Hejmanowski produced a fine fanfare that seamlessly blended in with the rest of the program. The trombones powerfully ascended and descended. Compared to Noah Goulet’s untamed trumpets at the October concert, however, Hejmanowski’s brass instruments remained leashed and were not allowed to achieve rebellious autonomy or revolutionary sovereignty. They remained firmly anchored in the string section, which dominated at other moments.
The concert continued with a medley of Christmas nuggets, including half a dozen sing-along carols. In a nod to diversity and inclusion, there was also the macaronic “Feliz Navidad” by Puerto Rican singer José Feliciano (in the arrangement by Steven Rosenhaus) and “Festive Sounds of Hanukkah,” arranged by Bill Holcombe. At one point, even Gray Chapel’s majestic Klais organ got involved to help produce the festive sounds that are appropriate for the season.
Singer and teacher Kristen Basore was the soloist in five numbers that included Irving Berlin’s “I am Dreaming of a White Christmas,” and snippets from “Mary Poppins,” a role she played and sang at the Palace Theater in Columbus in 2016. She has a warm and sonorous voice that resonates with both adults and children. Basore, who has worked with the Symphony before, is running the K-8 music program at St. Brendan’s School in Hilliard this year. She also gives private lessons.
Two pieces by prolific composer Ken McCaw from Westerville were another highlight of the afternoon. The Symphony performed “Ice Dance” as well as “Welcome Home,” a world premiere co-produced with Sandy Kalan. McCaw, who was in the audience, uses fairly conventional harmonies and instrumentation. His many compositions therefore lend themselves for functional use in theatrical shows, dance halls, and movies. For example, he has written music for several Walt Disney productions. In the case of “Welcome Home,” the music formed the background to an unusual performance by seven young and graceful dancers from the Buckeye Dance Company, which is affiliated with Buckeye Gymnastics in Powell. Three of them appeared to be outsiders and misfits who did not have a family or a home, but the other dancers greeted and embraced them nonetheless, welcoming them “home.” Sure, on some level the Symphony provided saccharine entertainment during the holiday concert. Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar” was literally quoted. However, these indulgences can easily be forgiven because there was also an unmistakable deeper message: it is our duty to welcome, feed, and clothe the stranger, especially this time of year. Showing hospitality to the sojourner is a holy command that religions around the world abide by. For this reviewer, the dancers’ timeless and universal story was the unforgettable highlight of the afternoon. Captivated by the choreography, I failed to pay proper attention to McCaw’s music, an oversight for which I apologize. Unfortunately, the piece is too new to be found on YouTube..
Additional orchestral works were Debussy’s “Claire de lune,” Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” and Strauβ’ “Radetzky March,” an audience favorite that concluded the concert. As usual, the orchestra played assuredly and effortlessly under the direction of music director and conductor Jaime Morales-Matos. The Symphony has been at it for forty years, and it has mastered the art of balancing luscious texture with luminous tenets to achieve an enduring soundscape that is by now part of Delaware’s DNA. Maybe the time has come to think about producing an occasional album (compact disc) that can be sold or given to particularly generous donors. As usual, the Symphony and its maestro received a standing ovation at the end.
Any orchestra depends on a vast network of supporters. There are the musicians, board members, volunteers, sponsors, advertisers, contributors, and of course, the loyal patrons. It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a city to run a symphony! Thanks to all of them for enriching the local community and making it a better place.
“Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad!” – “Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness!” May all your Hanukkahs, Christmases, and Kwanzaas be merry and bright! Inshallah – God be willing, we will see each other again at the March 31 concert (Verdi’s dramatic “Requiem”) and at the April 27 concert (“Chasing Light,” Gershwin’s “Piano Concerto in F,” and Dvorak’s “Symphony from the New World”).
Thomas K. Wolber, Ph.D., teaches foreign languages and literatures at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has an undergraduate degree in music from a German university, plays the piano, and is passionate about classical music. His email address is email@example.com.