The Raleigh Flute Choir gave its 25th annual Holiday Concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Featuring a wide variety of styles, nationalities, and eras, the music allowed the ensemble to showcase their entire family of instruments as well as their high levels of talent. Most of the works performed were unique from typical holiday tunes and Christmas carols; they had more complex harmonies, extra layers, and added effects that made the concert as harmonically interesting as the visual art they were surrounded by in the museum.
Thomas Mease on the bass flute gave a tour of the instruments from the commonly used C flute and piccolo to the E-flat flute, slightly smaller than the C flute, the alto, bass, and contrabass flutes. The players also utilized handbells in contrabass flutist Ann Pearce’s arrangement of “Ding Dong, Merrily on High!”, as well as chimes and finger cymbals in “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Sing We Now of Christmas,” respectively. These songs were all harmonious classics that were played very tenderly.
Some of the more traditional works the Raleigh Flute Choir programmed included Arcangelo Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, the Prelude and Chorale movements from Camille Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noel, and “O Song of Joy” by Darlene Dugan. This last medley featured a delightful interweave of “There’s a Song in the Air,” “O Tannenbaum,” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Another delightful portion of the concert was “Toyland” from Victor Herbert’s Babes in Arms.
The ensemble also played a medley called “The Nutcracker (in 5 Minutes),” arranged by Judy Nishimu, which was exciting in that it wove together many different sections from Peter Tchaikovsky’s ballet in unique ways; in fact, only two melodies in the work were dances that are commonly played. The rest of the medley was much more unfamiliar, perhaps not quite doing justice to a title which implied more melodies would be included. The transitions between sections of the medley were a bit tenuous, but altogether this challenging piece was played well.
Some of the more avant-garde works were Anne McGinty’s version of “Greensleeves,” which had some very unexpected harmonies at times, and Phyllis Avidan Louke’s “A Song of Winter – Snowmen and Icicles,” which depicted very literally the sound of winter snowstorms. Perhaps this was not the most festive of choices for a holiday concert, but it was impressive nonetheless. Another very interesting arrangement was Ann Pearce’s “Away in a Manger,” which utilized the melodies from both James Murray’s and William Kirkpatrick’s versions of the piece.
Another totally different style embraced by the ensemble was one the Raleigh Flute Choir is known for venturing into every now and then: jazz. Ann Pearce’s arrangement of “Go, Tell it On the Mountain” and the encore piece, “Boogie-Woogie Jingle Bells” were quite fun and well performed. It featured improv-style solos in several sections that the players themselves seemed to enjoy.
There were a few more blips and disjointed areas than I would expect from the Raleigh Flute Choir in its 25th holiday concert, but overall it was still a quite polished performance with music that one can hear nowhere else. Some of the harmonies and programming choices were not what might be anticipated in a holiday concert, but were appropriate for an ensemble of this caliber – and longevity. The Raleigh Flute Choir will make its next appearance at Duke Chapel for an 11:00am worship service on December 30, and will also perform at Raleigh’s First Night on New Year’s Eve.