The Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra “Home for the Holidays” concerts are always delightful. This year, SCSO returned to the Memorial Auditorium on Saturday for a festive evening of beautiful music, a rousing audience singalong, and even a visit from Santa.
Each year, the SCSO opens the holiday program with a processional. The singers ringed the walkway around the first balcony and each held a luminous glowstick in blue, green, rose, or lavender. The darkened auditorium was very still as Sacramento Children’s Chorus sang a haunting a capella Hodie, Cristus Natus Est, followed by the adult voices singing Lara Hoggard’s Personent Hodie.
The combined choirs, over 200 singers, then filed down the stairs and through the audience to take their places on the risers behind the orchestra as Kendrick directed the musicians in the Leroy Anderson medley, A Christmas Festival.
The program continued with a wonderful variety of holiday music, from the lush and lyrical I Wish You Christmas to the more familiar carols The First Noel and Deck the Hall.
The Children’s Chorus sang a lovely arrangement of Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, and their clear voices underscored the innocence of that air.
One of the most delicious treats was the world premiere of The Festival Magnificat. The work from Randol Alan Bass was jointly commissioned by the SCSO and the Children’s Chorus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Children’s Chorus.
The youth organization came into being two decades ago as a Sacramento State Masters’ project for Lynn Stevens under the tutelage of Donald Kendrick. It has grown to become one of the most impressive of Sacramento’s arts organizations, and under Stevens’ direction has garnered state and even international honors.
The Children’s Chorus now includes six separate age-specific choruses. Both the Cantoris and Capella groups performed in the Festival Magnificat.
One of the more startling offerings of the evening was the Nigerian carol Betelehemu, as arranged by Barrington Brooks. Accompanied only by driving percussion, and featuring a solo by baritone Tim Mascarenas, the carol was presented with choreography, rare for the SCSO, including a visually arresting sequence of hand moves.
The audience singalong was great fun. It is not often that non-singers are afforded the opportunity to sing along with a full orchestra and chorus in the company of over 2500 other people, and the audience enthusiasm was heartwarming.
Throughout the program, the Choral Society orchestra played with the professional expertise for which they are known. The orchestral rendition of the Leroy Anderson favorite Sleigh Ride was sprightly and surprised the audience when director Kendrick’s podium was briefly usurped by an interloper dressed in red velvet and fur. Apparently Santa Claus counts among his many other magical qualities an aptitude for orchestral conducting.
SCSO is a longstanding champion of bringing great music to the community, and to making the arts accessible to as wide an audience as possible. Many people are seldom exposed to live performance of the important and beautiful works of the orchestral and choral repertoire.
As funding for the arts had decreased dramatically in our schools, many students are never exposed to classical music at all.
This focus of the SCSO mission found a champion this year in Wells Fargo, the major sponsor of this concert.
Wells Fargo sponsored several hundred students from three local elementary schools, Leataata Floyd (formerly Jedediah Smith) Elementary, St. Patrick’s Elementary, and St. Joseph’s Elementary.
All of these schools are identified as Title One schools, which serve a large population of economically disadvantaged families. Many of these students might never have attended a live musical performance of this caliber without the joint sponsorship of the SCSO and Wells Fargo. Additionally, the Sacramento Adventist Academy sponsored 85 of their students to attend.
The concert held special meaning for Loren Weatherly. Seated in the first balcony, Weatherly was hearing the chorus and orchestra as an audience member for the first time.
He has spent several years on the risers with SCSO, first as a baritone and now as a bass. He is on leave of absence this season as he pursues an educational opportunity, and said that he was greatly enjoying the performance.
Even listening with a critical ear, inevitable in a singer who has performed in prestigious choral groups since 1988, Weatherly said he had only praise for the performance. He spoke about the freedom to just enjoy the evening “worry-free: I’m not nervous about ‘do I have my music? Will I remember the words?’ It’s wonderful.” He was especially impressed by the excellence of the balance between the orchestra and the delicate voices of the children.
The audience seemed to share his appreciation of the beauty, fun, and balance of the concert. In the Memorial Auditorium, everyone was truly home for the holidays.
SCSO is a unique Sacramento arts organization which provides their audiences with quality programs several times a year. To learn more about SCSO’s upcoming productions, please visit the website at http://sacramentochoral.com/.
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