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What better way is there to get in the holiday spirit than to attend a concert of Christmas favorites? The NC Symphony's latest holiday offering promises just that – with about as many famous themes as you could cram in a program less than two hours long. However, our state's orchestra doesn't compromise between quantity and quality, performing the same program seven times across the state, from New Bern to Southern Pines and places in between. Conductor Joseph Peters, who is also the NCS's associate principal oboe and English horn, led the Chapel Hill concert in Memorial Hall, following the one in New Bern. (Associate Conductor Wesley Schulz helms the others.) The Chapel Hill performance was pretty fabulous; it was an easy-going romp among carols, hymns, and more contemporary holiday hits, with a few more traditional pieces in between.
Peters' precise and efficient conducting style lent itself well to pretty much all textures and styles throughout the program – of which there were many. Throughout the program, there were no less than five pieces that were medleys, such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's "Christmas Overture." which opened the program flitting back and forth between popular quotations. Goeller's A Christmas Festival of Carols stuck to more traditional carols and hymns, but there were at least 10 put together! The second half featured a Trans-Siberian Orchestra mashup (Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24), which was completely different, given TSO's signature driving, percussive nature.
Among all these medleys, there were some more classical favorites – the traditional waltz texture in Waldteufel's Les Patineurs (The Skaters) invoked images of winter, along with selections from Tchaikovsky's beloved The Nutcracker later in the program (of course, "Waltz of the Flowers").
Speaking of Tchaikovsky, the NC Symphony also performed the Entr'acte and Waltz from Eugene Onegin, an opera whose tragic story completely belies the joyous, festive music that this audience heard. This set was a nice break from the familiar, with its fluttering violins and fun hemiolas. A lovely rendition of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on "Greensleeves" was a cross between the classical and the familiar.
Brubaker's concert suite arrangement of Alan Silvestri's fabulous score from The Polar Express is full of childlike wonder and triumph, just like the film. After a fun sing-along featuring the audience, the members of the orchestra donned their festive hats for an encore, Leroy Anderson's classic "Sleigh Ride."
There are still five more opportunities to hear the same program, in Tarboro, Jacksonville, twice in Wilmington, and Southern Pines. It is likely that at least a few members of the Chapel Hill audience are now making plans to see The Nutcracker ballet, sing their favorite Christmas tune, or watch The Polar Express, inspired by the NC Symphony's performance.
For details of all the NCS' many holiday pops concerts, go here: and note 12/11 in Tarboro, 12/13-14 in Raleigh, 12/15 in Jacksonville, 12/17 twice in Wilmington, 12/23 in Southern Pines, and the NCS' New Year's Eve "Vienna with a Twist" on 12/31 in Raleigh.