WSO upbeat Christmas program kicks off holidays

When it comes to welcoming the Christmas season in Williamsburg, with its fireworks, bonfires, beautiful door decorations and all the other fine things found in town, none seem to shout it out more than the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra’s holiday concert, now a regular part of our annual festivities.

Saturday’s program in the Kimball Theatre found music director Janna Hymes and the WSO eagerly embracing the spirit of the occasion in an afternoon of fun-filled music. Setting the stage for the event was the stage, which had Christmas trees flanking both sides of it, stockings with toys hung with care across the front, and right in the middle, Santa’s sleigh, which served as the podium for Hymes. Even the musicians were decked out in seasonal colors, including a couple of Santa hats and a pair of snappy red suspenders. It was festive to be sure.

The hour-long program was jam packed with holiday favorites, starting with “A Christmas Portrait” arrangement that contained just about every known Christmas carol ever written. It was an upbeat start that was quickly followed with an equally upbeat contemporary take on Mendelssohn’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Upbeat described much of the fare found on the program, with a rollicking “Jingle Bells Forever,” with Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes” cleverly incorporated into the piece; Leroy Anderson’s popular “Sleigh Ride,” smartly conducted by Williamsburg’s Rick Overy; and “Holiday Mash Up,” which was a blend of “Jingle Bell Rock” and a melancholic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”; and a quite beautiful arrangement of “O Holy Night.”

No Christmas program is Christmas without some singing and Richmond’s talented coloratura soprano Sarah Kate Walston was on hand to deliver a variety of songs, classical and otherwise. Walston’s lovely lyrical voice enhanced “Rejoice Greatly” from Handel’s “Messiah,” her ornamentations and cleanly handled gymnastic passages effectively and impressively presented, and “What Child Is This?”

Stepping away from her more classically oriented moments were such grooving, swinging selections as “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” pop singer Mariah Carey’s hot “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and a more uplifting than most rendering of “Blue Christmas.”

The musical affair closed with a rousing playing of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra‘s “Mad Russian’s Christmas,” based on snippets from “The Nutcracker.” It was very cool and a smashing close to a really cool program.

A particularly noteworthy note was the use of projections on a screen upstage above the WSO on which were seasonally themed visuals, both serious and silly, and very interesting and informative bits of information about many of the songs heard. The projections placed into historical and musical perspective the origins of many Christmas songs, a number of which were written by Jewish composers, and the political-social-religious intrigue that accompanied “O Holy Night,” all of which combined to make this “Holiday Pops” concert one of abundant good cheer and good will toward all and, as Hymes suggested, hopeful for eventual peace in our land.

Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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