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So you thought you had aged out with Scrooge and that "'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' and other Holiday Favorites" was for families with young children? Wrong! The holiday concert of that name was a show for children of all ages! David Hagy, conductor of the Salisbury Symphony and of Wake Forest University's orchestra, excelled as the Grinch. He is also the composer whose arrangement of Albert Hague's music for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was played by the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra and sung by the Capital City Girls Choir under the direction of conductor Alan Neilson. Hagy's intentionally raucous dramatic voice captured the attention of all. He spoke most of the material but, accompanied by the orchestra, he sang one number effectively, to make a point about the Grinch. The Capital City Girls Chorus alternated with him during the main event. The Grinch is the brainchild of the late Theodore Seuss Geisel, a Dartmouth alumnus who also studied at Oxford, who used the pen name, Dr. Seuss. Before he drew children's pictures, he illustrated magazine advertisements, according to my research.
Canned music opened the program following an announcement by the host, RSO Music Director Neilson. The young Concert Dancers of Raleigh proceeded to excel in hyping their December 14 full production of "Olive, the Other Reindeer." The brilliant costumes and choreography were a delight, as were the well-trained dancers, especially the team of brown-clad reindeer who shunned Olive because she was different: white with spots. Happy ending: Santa included her. It would have been lovely if the RSO had been able to accompany the dancers.
Since the opening dance number precluded setting up for the orchestra, there was an ominous sense of pause while the seats were placed behind the curtain. It would have been possible to present a selection of Christmas music or a dance in front of the dropped curtain while those chairs were being arranged -- something small and brilliant like a brass quartet from members of the RSO that would not have been distracted by the moving of furniture behind them.
A Leroy Anderson "Sleigh Ride" for your money burst forth from the brilliant Raleigh Symphony Orchestra that Neilson has nurtured since the Seventies. A pops orchestra for any occasion has developed here in addition to the pops options presented by the North Carolina Symphony. The RSO tickets are more affordable, so it is a wonderful boon to the cultural life of Raleigh to have an alternative of quality: something special for everyone.
"A Christmas Festival" by Leroy Anderson was interpreted in front of the orchestra, on the edge of the stage, by members of the Concert Dancers of Raleigh. Much can be accomplished in that narrow space that is actually in front of where the curtain drops. I imagined how it would have appeared if the orchestra had been behind a scrim. But that is for another place, another time.
"Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard was the next orchestral number, and it provided a lovely light contrast to the vigorous holiday music. It was pleasant as an old favorite although it could have been a little more crisp in spots, like the weather. Then just before the main event with the Grinch, Maestro Neilson, who announced each item on the program, explained that as a boy he had heard the Finale of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, in e minor, and was moved by it. "See what YOU think!" he said to the youngsters in the audience. And youngsters of all ages were impressed! Some of us had heard the entire Fifth Symphony recently, well-played by the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, many of whose members will no doubt move up to the Raleigh Symphony as they come of age. If so, and they play it again, they are in for a refined experience in the company of seasoned players! Fruition of the City of Raleigh funding, for sure! Such foresight is exemplary.
What can be the reason that this event was not a sellout? A music mentor once pointed out to me that one reason some members of the general public think they don't like classical music is that all they have heard is church music and children's recitals or school concerts of an inferior level. This is such a shame, because when a production such as we saw on the afternoon of November 29 at Meredith College comes along, there should be no empty seats.
Fortunately the community gets a second chance to hear the Capital City Girls Choir in a Christmas program on December 9, and they can see the Concert Dancers of Raleigh's entire production of "Olive, the Other Reindeer" on December 14, also at Jones Auditorium. Consider that the appearances of the Choir and the Dancers with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra were live "trailers." Such interactive programming, funded in part by United Arts and the Grassroots Arts Program of N. C. Arts Council, is very much appreciated.