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As in past years, there were spoken program notes, although a printed program was provided. This function is shared by Todd Wilson and trumpet player Heather Zweifel. For the final number of the first half, Festive Cheer -- another Harvey arrangement, this time of modern songs of the season -- we were provided with some humor as Ms Zweifel explained that one of the two horn players would assist with percussion (mostly sleighbells). In honor of his achievement, and to make sure we all knew who he was, he was awarded a dandy Santa Claus hat, complete with a large white fuzzy pom-pom on a wire above the hat, which swayed merrily as the sleighbells sounded in Sleighride. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was a merry, swinging version indeed, while Jingle Bells featured some very jazzy syncopation -- and more sleighbells! We Wish You a Merry Christmas put the low brass (tuba, bass trombone) in the spotlight, along with the organ in a majestic rendition with just a bit of cheek!

Brass and Organ, during 'Festive Cheer', showing horn player Brad Gemeinhardt in his Santa hat (centre). Photo © 2004 Roger Mastroianni
Brass and Organ, during 'Festive Cheer', showing horn player Brad Gemeinhardt in his Santa hat (centre). Photo © 2004 Roger Mastroianni

Past Three O'Clock for organ and brass opened the second half of the program, accompanied by pink and purple lights on the stage. My word! But then, the music tells of the tipsy carolers who might well have seen strange sights.

The Nutcracker Suite is a group of excerpts from the familiar ballet. The Brass played March Miniature in a brisk tempo very suitable for toy soldiers. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was given a piquant performance, proving itself a wonderful display piece for a grand pipe organ. For Arabian Dance, one of the trombones was replaced by a euphonium, which makes for such a different sound, in company with the tuba, yet entirely graceful. The organ had another dance, this one of the Reedpipes, almost bashful in their appearance. The dashing Trepak joined organ and brass for a Russian sleighride, with biting staccato playing in the trumpets.

The Cleveland Orchestra Youth Chorus, directed by Betsy Burleigh, was just awesome. The forty young singers (13-18 years) sang three carols a cappella, and the sense of pitch and articulation in these youngsters would put many an older chorus to shame. Two selections -- Caroling, Caroling, and Carol of the Bells -- were in English; the light and airy Il est né le divin Enfant in French. Regardless of the language, every syllable was clear and understandable. Their singing was so transparent and so well in tune with each other that the forty voices more often sounded like four. An amazing accomplishment.

Because the Brass and Mr Wilson had left the stage for the choral portion, The Little Drummer Boy began with a jazzy, march-like drumbeat, to which the musicians of The Burning River Brass filed back on stage. This is the marvelous arrangement by Paul Ferguson (a member of the faculty at CASE University, just across the street, by the way) with a full-blown jazzy, big band sound. There's a bit of The Pink Panther in there, which drew laughs from the appreciative audience, and an abundance of horn riffs for all the players, who seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the audience did. The stage lights, which had started out in orange and purple, switched to green and purple, then pink and red, before becoming kaleidoscopic in effect.

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Copyright © 27 December 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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