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At this point, the audience was treated to a major surprise. It had been announced that Bill O'Connell of our local classical radio station -- WCLV-FM -- would be a narrator on the program. Somehow, the exact details slipped by, but we were gifted with a world première! The Musical Arts Association (parent body of the Cleveland Orchestra) commissioned a work for this series of concerts from noted brass player and composer Anthony DiLorenzo, who conducted the combined forces in 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (for organ, brass and narrator).

Yes, it was indeed the familiar words we all know, and even some of the music was familiar, but given the marvelously vital DiLorenzo treatment. Under blue lights, keying in on the end word of each couplet, the piece was exuberant, joyful and melodious. '... not even a mouse' brought forth Mickey's tune as a waltz. There were 'jingle bells' and 'sugar plums' and 'Rockabye Baby' for the nap. 'Clatter' on the other hand was provided by the trumpet players, knocking over music stands and extra instruments! 'Reindeer' was Rudolph, of course. This version should become a great favorite, combining as it does, all the elements needed to amuse and entertain an audience. There was just one slight quibble: at times the brass (there were twelve of them, after all) and organ quite overpowered Mr O'Connell, rendering him not always understandable. Perhaps next time around, it will be more balanced.

The evening concluded with a sing-along, in which the audience participated along with choir, organ and brass, with everyone conducted by Ms Burleigh. The First Noel and Silent Night were in traditional versions. Joy to the World, however, was a grand arrangement by Mr DiLorenzo. Fanfares by the brass and organ with tympani begin the work and appear between each of the three verses. Furthermore, there are ritards here and there, and even changes of key! But we were so good! We didn't miss a note, thanks to Ms Burleigh's expert care.

Betsy Burleigh leads the troops for the audience sing-along at the end of the concert. Photo © 2004 Roger Mastroianni
Betsy Burleigh leads the troops for the audience sing-along at the end of the concert. Photo © 2004 Roger Mastroianni

As the chorus sat again, the audience rose to its feet, only to once again be seated, also, for an encore. Ding, Dong, Merrily on High ended the evening in brilliant festive style, this time with the fanfare in a toccata-like burst from the organ. Cheers, bravos and applause rang out through the large concert hall, as the performers left the stage. It was still snowing outdoors, but the warmth of the evening banished the cold from our hearts.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa -- or whatever holiday you celebrate.

Copyright © 27 December 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


The Cleveland Orchestra returns to the stage in January 2005. Information about forthcoming concerts (including those by Todd Wilson) is available online. The new CD Christmas Around the World from Burning River Brass was reviewed here recently by Kelly Ferjutz.

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