‘Tis the season for holiday pops concerts! With lots of opportunities to choose from, the holiday-minded concert goer might feel a little overwhelmed. Durham Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of William Henry Curry, makes a strong case for being on any music lover’s annual Christmas list. The program included a mix of new and old holiday favorites, some more serious classical music, the Hillandale Children’s Chorus, and – last but not least – lots of cookies!

The concert got off to a glitzy start with Ted Rickett’s arrangement of “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” This arrangement features the center section of the tune in triple meter, which provides a fresh perspective on the old melody. The less familiar “Sleigh Ride” by W.A. Mozart, the last of his German Dances, K. 605, followed it. The orchestra clearly took this piece seriously, and the charming little waltz came off very well.

Curry, ever the Tchaikovsky fan, tends to slip a little extra repertoire from the Russian master in with the standard Nutcracker selections. In addition to a selection from the beloved Christmas ballet, the waltz from Sleeping Beauty made an appearance, as did a much more unusual choice for a holiday concert. Tchaikovsky’s “Military March” formerly existed as a piano sketch written near the end of the composer’s life. Curry surveyed the full catalogue of Tchaikovsky’s works and sampled bits and pieces to make a more filled out arrangement of the march. With brass and percussion-heavy orchestration, the end result sounded a little like what Peter Ilyich and John Philip Sousa might have scribbled together on a cocktail napkin while drinking vodka. Regardless of whether or not it was “your thing,” it was exciting to have new music featured on a holiday pops program.

After the educational dose of Tchaikovsky, the founder of the Durham Symphony, Vincent Simonetti, was warmly welcomed to the podium for Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.” In addition to celebrating the recent cultural revitalization of Durham, Curry applauded Simonetti’s essential contributions to getting what is now the heartbeat of Durham classical music up and running. “A Christmas Festival” is full of favorite holiday tunes that are arranged, in some instances, rather creatively. Going by the smiles across the room, the piece evoked lots of happy memories and proved an excellent way to celebrate Simonetti’s accomplishments across the years.

After a lively intermission featuring more cookies and a busy silent auction, the Hillandale Children’s Chorus took the stage to perform four short pieces alone and one with the orchestra. With Dena Byers at the helm, these students (not auditioned) did the Durham public schools proud with their clean, painstaking, and charming renditions. “Believe” was the highlight for this ensemble. The children were joined by the orchestra to present the sweeping and dreamy tune from the beloved film, The Polar Express. Alan Silvestri’s score came through well in the Mark Hayes arrangement, and the balance between the choir and orchestra was quite successful.

Jackson Cooper (a CVNC intern and up-and-coming conductor) took charge for a medley of songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, arranged by Robert Russell Bennett. Cooper demonstrated a willingness to be inventive with his patterns and cues which sometimes comes slowly to younger conductors, and the audience was very receptive to his rendition of the melodies of the 1959 classic musical.

As no holiday concert is truly complete without a singalong, William Henry Curry returned to lead the orchestra and the audience in a festive rendition of the Christmas Memories medley 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” arranged by Bruce Chase. The indispensable “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson, as an encore that was indeed merry and bright, followed this piece.

There are plenty of other opportunities to get your holiday pops fix, so check out our calendar and see where to get your seasonal cheer!