The Vancouver Symphony whipped up some frothy and light-hearted treats for its holiday concert on Sunday evening (December 11), rounding out the year on a high note. The large audience at Skyview Concert Hall lapped up the assortment of traditional favorites as well as the newer selections from cinema. Music director Salvador Brotons and forces drew music from Central Europe, Russia, and America for the holiday program.
The orchestra created an atmosphere of Gemütlichkeit (geniality and friendliness) from the start with a few polkas and waltzes by Johann Strauss Jr. “Voices of Spring” conjured images of dancers swirling about in an elegant ballroom. It was followed by a lively performance of the “Tritsch-Tratsch Polka” with its more rustic and jokey style. The musicians at one point yelled out a “Whoo” as if they were dancing along, and the audience chuckled a bit when that happened.
Concertmaster Eve Richey nicely set the mood with the introductory solo to “Wiener Blut,” and the orchestra swept in with just the right amount of Schmaltz (sentimentality). “The Blue Danube” featured excellent performances by principal cello Dieter Ratzlaf and principal horn Dan Partridge.
Changing the tempo and dynamics ever-so-slightly, Brotons and company made sure that both waltzes had just a bit of swing. To heighten the mood, “Wiener Blut” was briefly accompanied by a video of scenes from Vienna and “The Blue Danube” was complimented by postcard-perfect views along the famous river.
From Russia, the orchestra played music from “The Nutcracker Suite.” The musicians caught the spirit of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet, but some of their playing needed to be a little lighter and tighter. Still there was much to enjoy, including the celeste-tones from the synthesizer with Michael Liu at the keyboard. The “Arabian Dance” featured a smooth and exotic sound from the woodwinds. Unfortunately the “Chinese Dance” got off to a false start and had to be reset. Oboist Karen Strand, English hornist Kris Klavik and the three flutists (Rachel Rencher, Corrie Cook, and Darren Cook) fashioned lovely passages in “Reed-Flutes,” and the orchestra wrapped things up in grand style with sensitive playing of the “Waltz of the Flowers.”
From the American side of the menu, the orchestra gave a brisk and delightful rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride with the ensemble flexing their big band muscles at the end of the piece and principal trumpet Bruce Dunn executing one of the best neighing horse sounds ever. Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” provided an excellent survey of popular carols and a couple of secular pieces that had listeners' heads bobbing along.
Drawing from popular holiday movies, the audience relished a medley of tunes from “Frozen” and “Polar Express.” “Frozen” featured the stomping of feet and a poignant solo by concertmaster Richey. The selections from “Polar Express “ were motoric and lyric, expressing lots of uplifting optimism for the end of the year.
Ending the concert with the “Radetzky March” by Johann Strauss Sr., Brotons got the entire audience involved in clapping during the refrains. His enthusiasm was immediately contagious. Who can resist getting the conductor to hop up and down on the podium? The audience made the most of its chance to make music with the orchestra, and there were smiles everywhere to prove it.