Thursday, January 3, 2013

concert review BOSTON POPS, NJPAC, December 2 & NJSO with ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY, State Theatre December 16

Ann Hampton Callaway
Christmas concerts with symphony orchestras are a holiday staple in every city around the world.  Fortunately in New Jersey this holiday season we were treated to two enjoyable concerts, the first one featuring The Boston Pops at their holiday concert tour stop at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and our second concert was with our own New Jersey Symphony Orchestra with their special guest Ann Hampton Callaway at the State Theatre in New Brunswick.  And while The Boston Pops are more well known then the NJSO, it was actually the NJSO concert that was more enjoyable and more memorable.

Now don't get me wrong, the Boston Pops are a great orchestra and under the direction of Keith Lockhart they always provide an engaging, joyous holiday show.  But I thought the set list was somewhat tired and even with the addition of the vocal ensemble Five by Design who joined the Pops on several songs and gave them a fun 50's feel as well as having Meredith Vieira read "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" accompanied by the Pops, the whole concert just seemed a little flat.

The NJSO concert, led by guest conductor John Morris Russell from the Cincinnati Pops, featured a varied set list that included many surprises.  Ann Hampton Callaway was the special guest and she provided a warm and personal touch to the many holiday classics she sang- some with the entire orchestra, and a few with a trio.  The highlights for me included Ann's take on "My Favorite Things" as well as "Carol of the Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland."  

Ann also performed some of her original songs as well including "Christmas Lullaby" that Barbra Streisand recorded and a hilarious one she wrote on the spot after taking lyric suggestions from the audience.  Ann knows how to connect with an audience which added a nice sense of humor as well as a personal connection to the evening.
What I also enjoyed so much about the concert was the orchestral pieces that weren't exactly traditional holiday fare, yet had a holiday connection, like Rimsky-Korsakov's "Dance of the Tumblers," Bizet's Farandole Suite from L'Arlesienne and a lovely pairing of "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" that they title "A Winter Miracle."   This pairing was a simply fantastic arrangement that merged the two songs seamlessly into an even greater piece of music.

The Masterwork Chorus provided a lovely rich choral sound to several songs including Handel's "Messiah," and "Deck the Halls"   Ann joined them on the Handel piece as well as led them with a moving performance to John William's "Somewhere in My Memory."  The concert ended with an emotionally uplifting "Go Tell It On the Mountain" that featured a rousing take on the gospel classic by the orchestra, Callaway and the Chorus.

1 comment: