Photo courtesy of wikipedia.com
By Richard Pryor III
In a resoundingly amazing concert, the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra capped off their Advent semester with “A Festive Celebration!” Conducted by Professor Peter Povey, the concert centered around traditional musical selections for Christmas.
A pre-concert performance by the flute section, all donning Santa hats, greeted concert-goers as they arrived in the lobby of Guerry Auditorium. Various members of the string section, as well as fiddle players and guitarist Edward Austin (C’20), performed the first four selections: Giulio Caccani’s setting of Ave Maria, Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto” (Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8), Central Coach Special (a traditional fiddle piece), and An Irish Party in Third Class from the movie Titanic.
The Caccani piece was notable as it was arranged by violinist Annie Bowers (C’20), who took the original organ accompaniment and arranged it for strings. Caiti Berends (C’20), who sang the solo, had perfect and clear pitch. Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto” featured a switch between the full group and a trio, composed of Bowers and Maddy Hitel (C’20) on violin with Jenna Whitehead (C’20) on the cello. Central Coach Special allowed for the performers to show off their finger speed, moving between pitches rapidly, and to the delight of the audience, Irish Party meant the return of Povey’s famous electric fiddle to join in the music-making.
The winds and brass instruments performed the next two selections, Robert Smith’s arrangement of An American Christmas and the classic Christmas tune Sleigh Ride. An American Christmas, conducted by flute instructor Rebecca Murphy, was a mash-up of classic tunes like Jingle Bells with noted American tunes like John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.
The jazz take on the Nutcracker was a delight to all dance fans in the audience, who left wondering when it might hit Broadway. Sleigh Ride allowed for the symphony’s resident clarinet maestro, Dr. John Gatta of the English Department, to lead the audience into the familiar tune with the passion and talent he always brings.
The final three numbers involved the entire symphony playing together, leading off with Sir David Willcocks’s arrangement of the well-known hymn O Come All Ye Faithful. Willcocks’s arrangement, well-known throughout the Anglican and Christian world, features two reharmonized verses: “Sing, choirs of angels” and “Yea, Lord, we greet thee.” Willcocks’s final verse, “Yea, Lord,” is without a doubt one of the most memorable re-harmonizations, with new chords and keys introduced at key moments to bring the audience to a heavenly state.
Michael Story’s arranged suite from the beloved movie The Polar Express featured such well-known tunes including the titular song, When Christmas Comes to Town, Hot Chocolate, Believe, and Spirit of the Season, all composed by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri. To the younger crowd in attendance, it was a treat to hear a beloved movie soundtrack played so well.
The final selection of the night, Johann Strauss Sr.’s Radetzky March, featured audience participation as Povey asked them to join in and clap at certain points in the march. Povey conducted the audience and jokingly warned that anyone who was clapping too loud or clapping at the wrong time would be kicked out. However, he dutifully led the audience through Strauss’s famed celebratory march, leading into a long round of applause for the performers and conductor.