In many religions, winter is a holy season. The word “holy” is an ancient word of Germanic origin, derived from “to heal.” Holy season is healing season. The weary and wary world must be restored in order to be whole and hale again. December is also the month of the winter solstice. The days are short and dark, but fire and light help improve the mood. In December, we tend to use a lot of candles as part of the healing process. We also eat a lot of comfort food to help us cope with the dreariness of winter.
The Dec. 15 holiday concert of the Central Ohio Symphony was such a beacon of light and banquet of comfort food. Under the baton of Maestro Jaime Morales-Matos, the orchestra performed 12 season-appropriate pieces, all of which were appealing and on the light side. Some of them were tried-and-true staples of the repertoire, such as the “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauβ Sr. and several pieces by prolific composer and arranger Leroy Anderson (“A Christmas Festival,” “Sleigh Ride,” and others).
However, a number of new and unfamiliar compositions could also be heard. Leroy Anderson’s humorous “Sandpaper Ballet” was a memorable experience – not necessarily because of the music but because the orchestra’s three percussionists dressed up as laborers in orange vests and safety goggles and literally sandpapered away in sync with the orchestra.
There was also some improvised talking, joking, and dancing. This was the first year the orchestra was able to procure the music from the company that holds the rights, and the audience had a blast. Maybe we will hear Leroy Anderson’s popular orchestral tune “The Typewriter” someday.
“Die Fledermaus Overture” by Johann Strauβ Jr. was another special treat. This reviewer keeps being intrigued by the tension within the waltzes of the composer. They can be joyous and jubilant, but there is always also a melancholy, bittersweet edge in them – a tradition continued by Ravel’s “La Valse” and Sibelius’ “Valse triste.”
Another big hit was Mark Alan Wade who played the hammered dulcimer in four pieces on the program, one of them as a soloist.
Wade, a 1999 OWU graduate, is a professional musician, trumpeter, and teacher, but he is also a national dulcimer champion with seven albums to his credit. He plays the hammered dulcimer with both hands, sitting in front of it. If curious about the technical details, you can see and hear some of his tunes on YouTube.
Not much music is written for the dulcimer, so Wade often transcribes and orchestrates existing tunes and compositions to fit his needs. In this case, he used pieces by Louis-Claude Daquin and Georg Friedrich Händel as well as traditional tunes. The Bohemian melody “Good King Wenny,” arranged by Alex De Pue and Wade, was a world premiere. Good King Wenceslas is a Catholic saint who showed mercy to the poor. The song was popularized by Bing Crosby.
In this orchestral version, however, no words are spoken. “Streams of Mercy” describes the Irish countryside and is evocative of Celtic traditions. The haunting music is slow, emotional, and not intended to show off. His performance of “Silent Night” for dulcimer solo was likewise a moving experience. Sometimes simplicity makes the deepest impression. In other pieces, however, Wade proudly displayed his dexterity and wizardry on the dulcimer. To learn more about the artist, visit his website, www.markalanwade.com.
Another highlight of the evening was Clement C. Moore’s poem “Twas the Night before Christmas” in the arrangement by Douglas Meyer, who interspersed the text with several traditional Christmas tunes. Popular audiobook narrator and local actor J. T. McDaniel was the narrator of the tale. He is also the author of a number of published plays and novels, which may be worth reading. (To learn more about him, visit his website www.jtmcdaniel.com.)
Local music student Bella Bosco, a 2019 Hayes High School graduate, was the fearless leader of the sing-along. The mezzo soprano has a clear and strong voice and kept the audience on the right path. Currently a freshman at Western Connecticut State University, she is bound to have a bright future.
Many people contribute to the continued success of the Central Ohio Symphony, now in its 41st season. They are too numerous to be named here, but they are listed in the concert program. My thanks go to the musicians, the orchestra staff, the contributors to the Symphony, and the audience. Major donors include the Ohio Arts Council, the Delaware County Foundation, and the City of Delaware.
Please mark your calendars for the remaining two concerts of the 41st season of the Symphony. The March 1 concert features William Grant Still’s “Festive Overture,” Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol,” and Respighi’s “Roman Festivals.” The April 25 concert highlights George Walker’s “Sinfonia for Orchestra” No. 1, Arturo Márquez’ “Trumpet Concerto,” and Peter Boyer’s “Ellis Island,” with video and actors. In the meantime, enjoy the holidays. Happy Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa!
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 protected]