“Tis the season to be jolly,” and the Durham Symphony supplied a goodly portion during this evening program at the Carolina Theatre. With guest conductor/candidate Fouad Fakhouri at the helm and Durham’s pride and joy, Elizabeth Grayson as featured artist and pianist Alice Tien joining the orchestra for the second half, it was an evening of joyful holiday music ranging from Beethoven to Anderson. Cakes, cookies, punch, coffee and tea were available before the concert and at intermission, and continued to appear at an astonishing pace. Add to this the little girls in their gorgeous Christmas dresses and the atmosphere was ideal for a delightful evening.
Since 2004 Fakhouri has been Music Director of the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra and has received acclaim for raising the orchestra’s artistic standard, creating novel educational and outreach programs, and dramatically increasing the symphony’s audience. He has been guest conductor abroad and has received increasing recognition for his compositions. Grayson is home from recent appearances in Europe and New York City.
The annual “Holiday Pops Concert” began with Symphony No 1 in C, Op. 21 of Ludwig van Beethoven. As sprightly a work as the master composed, it is no breeze for performing artists. Scales and runs of semiquavers at breakneck speed, sometimes beginning a movement or section, irregular rhythms and bouncing and frolicking themes all provided a demanding workout, especially for the string sections. This symphony, hovering as it were, on the edge of the classical era with its solid base of form and stylistic elegance only hints at what is to come, but the stamp of a restless spirit is definitely there. The orchestra did its very best under Fakhouri’s capable command, but seemed more at ease when they got to the “Pops” half of the concert. An audience that insisted on applauding after every movement contributed to the festive atmosphere, and according to custom Fakhouri properly declined to acknowledge the applause until the work was finished.
The second half of the concert had about all you would expect beginning with "Around the World at Christmas Time," arranged by B. Chase. A collection of familiar Christmas and Hanukkah songs, it was played with a vigor and enthusiasm that established the mood for the rest of the evening.
Grayson, our nightingale of the evening, sang the Bach/Gounod setting of “Ave Maria” and Adolf Adam’s “O Holy Night,” thrilling the audience with her wondrous high notes. One of the hits of the evening was the Strauss “Pizzicato Polka” featuring the string section plucking all the way in a winsome way. Grayson returned for two opera arias; “Quando m’en vo” from the second act of La Boheme, and the “Laughing Song” (Mein Herr Marquis) from Die Fledermaus. (No matter what else is on the program when I hear Puccini’s lilting melody, it sticks in my head for at least three days. So I am still humming, whistling and enjoying it.) Grayson was outstanding as was the orchestra on these pieces.
The evening concluded with a Christmas sing-a-long arranged by J. Finnegan with printed words in the program but no houselights for the one verse each of familiar Yuletide favorites. After announcements of winners in the Durham Symphony Silent Auction, we heard Leroy Anderson’s rousing “Sleigh Ride” sounding as playful, joyful and fun as ever. Indeed, it can be said with confidence, a good time was had by all.