Happy, seasonal Holiday Pops from the VSO

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra pulled out all the stops in its Holiday Pops program Thursday, in the Ferguson Center. In addition to the smaller sized VSO, it featured the VSO Chorus, Virginia Children’s Chorus and the Dance Magic Dancers from the Copeland-Mills School for the Performing Arts, for a total of what appeared to be about 200 folk.

Hanging from the rafters were single strings of lights with a giant illuminated wreath in the middle. Decorated trees with packages flanked the stage. Nicely applied backdrop colors changed throughout the fare, reflecting the music. Members of the orchestra and even some of the instruments were decorated with tinsel and Santa hats, and touches of red and green among the formal black peeked out between music stands.

Similarly, the audience sported lots of red and green and holiday sweaters. Santa was spotted in full regalia. All this and 19 holiday selections, familiar and otherwise. Festive this was.

Robert Shoup, conductor of the VSO Chorus, served as narrator and baton holder for the show, which kicked off with a happy “Ding Dong Merrily on High” featuring the full cast of participants and young guest violinist Blake Armstrong (whose parents are VSO members). From there it was one happy musical experience after another, some thoughtful, some humorous, some melancholy, all seasonally satisfying.

There was a pulsating and dramatic “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” somewhat popularized by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra; a delightful take on Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”; Overture to “Miracle on 34th Street”; “Star of Bethlehem” from “Home Alone”; and a series of jazz-styled arrangements by Will Todd of “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” all quite interesting and definitely not typical settings and all spiritedly sung by a VSO choral ensemble, the ladies wearing colorful neck scarves.

A treat was hearing the Children’s Chorus. This group, founded by Carol Downing, according to the program featured some 45 young singers whose work was notably superior. They delivered a sensational rendering of the Italian carol, “Gesu Bambino,” with its reflections of “Adeste Fideles,” their pure, pitch perfect sounds appropriately angelic. Similarly did they shine in “Somewhere in My Memory” from “Home Alone,” performed with the VSO and Chorus and in the a cappella “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” directed by the founder.

A particularly melancholic-reflective-cozy moment came with James Nesbit’s sax solo on “Christmas Song,“ superbly done, although the amplification somewhat dampened the intimacy of this ever so beautiful song.

Adding to the program’s color were the young dancers from Chesapeake who were charming in “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and “Let It Snow,” the latter ending up in a line kick like the Radio City Rockettes.

Everyone joined forces for a rousing “Merry Christmas” from “Home Alone,” which led into an expected carol sing. With hundreds of musicians and singers on stage and in front of the stage and dancers filling the aisles, the sounds of “Deck the Halls,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Rudolph” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” bounced off the walls in good cheer.

With sincere comments by Shoup for the extension of good will beyond the concert hall into the world, a reprise of “Merry Christmas” brought the affair to a happy, seasonal close.

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

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