There was no escaping the magic of the holidays, as it was palpable in the air of Winston Salem Symphony's Carolina Christmas Spectacular. Music Director Robert Moody led a musical journey of Christmas glee and festivity in Reynolds Auditorium.
The evening was a testament to how creative collaboration among artistic groups can elicit a performance that is both dynamic and culturally full-bodied. The orchestra, along with its very own Chorale, welcomed guest artists: the female a cappella group, the Burke Singers. of Winston Salem State University, as well as aerialists from the company Cirque de la Symphonie.
The Carolina Christmas Spectacular was divided into three segments separated by a single intermission, each illuminating the essence of the holiday season while offering a specific point of view. The first was "The Tradition of the Holiday," which tapped into musical nostalgia and recurring holiday themes. This was particularly evident with the piece "Simple Holiday Joys," where the melancholy arrangement carried the delicate vocals of the choir as they sang, "How I miss the simple joys I once knew…."
Much of this segment experimented with mixed musical styles that provided a fresh approach to traditional staples. The Burke Singers shone with their "Holiday Medley," heavily jazz influenced with reconstructed melodies and a complex harmonic cadence. The orchestra followed with selections by composer Robert Wendel that combine elements of Mozart with the standards "Joy to the World" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" in the piece "Overture to A Merry Christmas" as well as "Little Bolero Boy," where a swelling bolero rhythm underscores the traditional "Little Drummer Boy"
The second segment was "The Story of the Holiday" or, as conductor Robert Moody stated, "the reason for the season" from a biblical chronology perspective. The orchestra and chorale executed the opening number, "The First Noel," by composer Mack Wilberg, beautifully, with a sound that swept the audience. The Burke Singers' "Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child," arranged by director D'Walla Simmons Burke, is rich with soul and African American gospel-isms.
The highlight of the segment was Moody's arrangement of "The Rose," in which he was the featured baritone soloist, joined by the Burke singers and the chorale. The piece was deeply emotional and well suited for its placement in the performance. Ending the segment was Handel's "Hallelujah," from the oratorio Messiah, HWV 56. The selection brought the audience members to their feet – not solely because it is customary to stand during the playing of the piece but also because of how powerfully it was performed.
The conclusion of the evening was "The Spirit of the Holiday," full of Christmas charm and joviality. The musicians on stage adorned themselves with Santa hats and holiday lights while inviting the audience to join in with a "Christmas Sing-a-Long, hitting all children's classics such as "Jingle Bells." "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls," and many more. There was even the very special surprise of Santa himself, taking a break from preparations in the North Pole to greet the audience and sing along with everyone.
The true gem of the entire production was unquestionably the aerial displays by Cirque de la Symphonie. Their two performance opportunities – the first segment's "Waltz of the Flowers" from The Nutcracker and third's "Rocket Sleigh," by composer Delvyn Case, were not nearly enough to suffice. The dazzling talent shown by the company members with their beautiful silk work and acrobatics had the audience in awe as they danced above the audience. It is unfortunate they were not presented more frequently throughout the show.
The Winston Salem Symphony officially embraced the holidays with a concert that was full of enchantment and collaborative triumph. The orchestra, chorale, and special guests proved 'tis the season indeed!
This program will be repeated on Sunday, December 1, at 2:00 p.m. For details, see the sidebar.
And Cirque will visit Raleigh, under the auspices of the NC Symphony, for concerts starting December 20. For details, click here.