Orchestra closes the year with festive pops concert

‘Nutcracker,’ ‘Polar Express,’ ‘Frozen’ mix old and newer

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If You Go

What: Holiday pops concert with a lively blend of old and new tunes.

When: 3 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Skyview High School Concert Hall, 1300 N.W. 139th St., Vancouver.

Cost: $50 for reserved seats, $38 for general admission, $34 for seniors and $10 for students.

The Vancouver Symphony had such success last year with its movie-themed concert that it has decided to close out the year again with a program of popular pieces. This time, however, the program will feature a mixture of light classical standards and newer pops numbers that will warm up the holiday spirit.

You can’t go wrong with selections from “The Nutcracker.” The music from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet is almost synonymous with the magic of winter. From the ballet score, Tchaikovsky arranged an orchestral suite of eight numbers that are stunning for their use of orchestral color and pure melodic invention.

“I love ‘The Nutcracker,'” remarked concertmaster Eva Richey. “My favorites are The Arabian Dance and The Chinese Dance. I think they have been my favorites since I was young. By far the most challenging movement for the first violins is the opening overture. It has high passages that are exposed and can be tough intonationally.”

The orchestra will lean on the Viennese holiday tradition for several polkas, marches, and waltzes. If you have ever watched the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert, you’ll be in familiar territory that will make you want to order up some apple strudel with whipped cream and a cup of coffee.

Johann Strauss Jr. concocted so many wonderful pieces of light music that his fame even brought him to the United States where he conducted over a thousand performers at a huge music festival in Boston in 1872. On the orchestra’s program is the light-hearted “Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka.” The title was never explained by the composer, but scholars think that refers to the chit-chat of gossip.

Also on tap are several beloved waltzes, such as “Voices of Spring,” “Wiener Blut,” and “The Blue Danube.” Because of Strauss’s astonishing ability to create unforgettable melodies, these pieces were practically overnight sensations that helped to Strauss to an international career as the Waltz King.

Strauss undoubtedly got his predilection for light music from his dad, Johann Strauss Sr., who wrote the “Radetzky March” to commemorate the victory of Austrian field marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz. When it was first played for a group of Austrian officers, they clapped their hands in rhythm to the refrain. The rhythmic clapping has been a tradition for audiences ever since. So concert-goers should be at the ready when music director Salvador Brotons signals the audience to clap.

American holiday tradition

From the American holiday tradition, the orchestra will play Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival,” which contains inventive arrangements of carols and popular secular tunes like “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells.” One of the most fun pieces to hear is Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” In that piece, the trumpeter has to create the sound of a neighing horse at the end. According to principal trumpeter Bruce Dunn, the first time that Brotons heard the neighing sound a couple of years ago in rehearsal, he exclaimed, “What is this? What are you doing?”

“I create the sound by doing a half-valve,” explained Dunn. “So I push the trumpet’s valves down half-way. The air then goes through the ports half way. That makes the tone un-centered. At the same time, I shake the instrument. I start with a high note and let it fall. It sounds like a horse whinny. It’s pretty cool.”

New popular music from the world of movies includes “The Polar Express Medley” and an arrangement of tunes from “Frozen,” the animated feature film that was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen.” The husband and wife songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the music for “Frozen.” The song “Let it Go” won the Academy Award for Best Original song in 2014 and the Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual media in 2015.

A drum set at the back of the orchestra will be played by Isaac Rains. Rains is a versatile percussionist with an interesting educational path.

“I started my undergraduate work at the University of Michigan,” he said. “Then I took some time off to study traditional Zimbabwean music before finishing my degree at the University of Portland. Yes. I lived in Zimbabwe for a while. I also did jazz and played with rock groups. There’s always something going with rhythm in the back of my brain.”

Versatility really counts during holiday concerts. Rains and the percussion ensemble will handle a variety of instruments, including xylophone, tam-tam, bass drum, snare drum, glockenspiel, chimes, vibraphone, cymbals, cabasa, shaker, anvil, whip, temple block, sleigh bells, triangle, and tambourine.

Accompanying the music throughout will be video clips and photos that will be projected on large screens. These visual enhancements should elevate the festive atmosphere and put a ribbon on the experience, as well.