December 20, 2008

Holiday Music Picks – Something Different!

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to check out the dress rehearsal for the Gala Holiday Pops concerts. It’s really a thrill to hear the Festival High School Chorale sing selections from the movie Home Alone – for such a funny movie, these songs can also bring a lump to your throat. And then to hear the Chorale along with the New York Voices rehearse an a cappella version of Lully, Lullay – what a treat! There are still a few more concerts this weekend – click here for details.

The Home Alone selections are also on the RPO’s A Holiday Celebration CD, along with Jeff Tyzik’s Chanukah Suite. I love this piece – with its lush orchestration and sweet melodies, it sounds like it could be a movie score.

And now, as Monthy Python would say, for something completely different. I raided my holiday CD collection for some more unusual music for your listening pleasure.
  • If the Beatles had ever released a holiday record, it might have sounded like Have Yourself a FAB-ulous Little Christmas from The Fab Four. They take the song Norwegian Wood, and turn it into Silent Night. When I’m 64 becomes Santa Claus is Coming to Town. They even take on some of the more psychedelic Beatles numbers and it all works amazingly well!

  • The Squirrel Nut Zippers were inspired by O. Henry’s classic story to write their own version of Gift of the Magi. Their CD Christmas Caravan contains a number of original songs, all done in their inimitable style blending '30s jazz, blues, and Southern roots music.

  • Brian Setzer (former lead singer of the Stray Cats) lends his rockabilly touch to the holidays with Dig That Crazy Christmas. He brings along a full big band for his take on White Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, and even My Favorite Things.

  • Folk singer Christine Lavin’s Christmas album features a number of a cappella rounds including the traditional Dona Nobis Pacem as well as the more unusual Tacobel Canon (yes, it’s what you might guess). She also has some wonderful stories on here, including The Runaway Christmas Tree (which I just heard Simon Pontin play on WXXI) and Polkadot Pancakes.

  • And no Christmas CD list would be complete without A Charlie Brown Christmas by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. This includes all the classic music from the TV special, including the Linus and Lucy theme and Christmas Time is Here.
Happy Holidays, and here’s to more great music in the New Year!

December 16, 2008


A few weeks ago, I got a sneak peek of our most upcoming blockbuster concert. We’re prolonging New Year’s in Rochester with “Cirque!” - an orchestral adaptation of Cirque du Soleil with former company acrobats.

In addition to performing with the RPO, I am frequently called to play with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and it is always a pleasure to perform new repertoire with a different orchestra. Much to my delight, they also brought in “Cirque!” this season.

Largely, our "Cirque!" performance will be the same, with a few extra pieces that weren’t played in Buffalo. Yes, the musicians should hold on to their instruments at all times… and should be aware of who’s flying above them. Yes, I have the utmost trust in the capabilities of our stagehands who keep the acrobats airborne. Yes, if I were to try and contort in some of those directions, I’d be in intensive care. Yes, the music is very cool. And yes, you should get your tickets now before we sell out!

December 10, 2008

Holiday Music Picks, Week #2 – Messiah and More!

Years of singing in church choir and other choral groups means that when I’m out shopping this holiday season and a Christmas carol comes on, I can’t help but start humming along. And I like putting on some of my favorite CDs at home and singing along while I sign cards or make holiday treats.

In honor of this Saturday’s RPO concert (click here for more info), I put on a recording of Handel’s Messiah. When I’m singing along at home, I can join in on all the different solos, and I love the song “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” for the way the music illustrates the text. When the tenor sings “the mountains and hills made low,” the music starts on a high note and then drops down on the word “low.” The choral parts are especially glorious – especially the “Hallelujah Chorus.” In concert, it’s thrilling to watch Christopher Seaman leading the RPO and Oratorio while playing the harpsichord at the same time.

Carols from the Old & New Worlds, by Theatre of Voices, features carols from a number of different countries. “In the bleak midwinter,” with music by Gustav Holst, is particularly meaningful for this time of year. The writer worries about what to give, “poor as I am,” and decides the best gift is to give from the heart.

Several groups put on concerts celebrating Christmas and the Winter Solstice and featuring English and French carols. I enjoy listening to CDs by Nowell Sing We Clear and The Christmas Revels.

And for a local connection, there are several beautiful albums by hammered dulcimer player Mitzie Collins with Glennda Dove, flute, and Roxanne Ziegler, harp. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to sing with the Lyric Chorale in a joint holiday concert with this trio, so after listening to their album Nowell, I'll be humming the tunes the rest of the day.

December 3, 2008

New Mezzanine Chairs

The first of the new chairs for the Eastman Theatre mezzanine were delivered yesterday. Instead of replacing the chairs, they took some of the current chairs and had them completely refurbished by a local vendor.

The first batch of 50 chairs will be installed over the next few weeks, and then newly reconditioned chairs will be added over the course of the season.

This is just one more visible sign of the changes ahead at the Eastman Theatre. We'll be posting updates on the RPO web site as well, click here to visit the page about the renovation project.

December 2, 2008

This Week's Holiday Music Picks

Tuvan Throat Singers doing Jingle Bells. Five different interpretations of Dona Nobis Pacem. Little Drummer Boy done in the style of Bolero. Waltz of the Ruggelah. Over the years I've become an inveterate collector of holiday music - the more unusual, the better - and these are just a few of the selections I've been listening to this past week. A few are brand new CDs, and some I've had in my collection for years.

  • Bela Fleck & the Flecktones' new CD opens with the percussive sound of horses' hooves and then the deep throaty sound of Tuvan singing. Once you realize it's Jingle Bells, you can't help but chuckle. They go on to cover the classic Christmas Time is Here and Linus & Lucy from the Peanuts Christmas special, as well as a selection from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Joni Mitchell's River. Never a dull moment with Bela and the guys.
  • Last Thursday while we were having our Thanksgiving feast, we listened to Klezmer Nutcracker Shirim in honor of the RPO's Nutcracker performances with the Rochester City Ballet. This is a wonderful interpretation of Tchaikovsky's music with fun titles like Dance of the Latkes Queens and Dance of the Dreydls. It also includes Gustav's Wedding from Mahler's First Symphony, which sounds like Frere Jacques but done in a minor key.
  • Yo-Yo Ma has released a new CD featuring a number of guest artists performing Songs of Joy and Peace. It includes Dave Brubeck, James Taylor, Natalie MacMaster, Alison Krauss, Renee Fleming (along with Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile - quite an unusual combination!), hotshot ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, Chris Botti, and the Assad Brothers. The latter is interesting to hear since the RPO will be playing a brand new guitar concerto by Sergio Assad in February. This CD is well worth checking out.
  • Another favorite in my collection is the RPO's CD A Holiday Celebration. I love Jeff Tyzik's version of Little Drummer Boy which takes off on the percussive sound of Bolero. Plus it includes selections from John Williams' score to Home Alone - which is a really funny movie but these songs can be very poignant as well. Both of these will be on the RPO's Gala Holiday Pops concerts in a few weeks - so you'll have a chance to hear them performed live. (click here for more info).
  • And for another version of Little Drummer Boy (this one by jazz singer Cassandra Wilson), you can't beat Jazz to the World. This was a special collection released a few years back to support Special Olympics and has some great stuff by Chick Corea, Diana Krall, John McLaughlin, and others.
Well, I hoped you have enjoyed this brief foray into my record collection. I plan on posting more selections for your listening pleasure next week...