Steamboat Symphony Orchestra delivers holiday magic

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— The Steamboat Springs Orchestra’s annual holiday concert took place at the Strings Music Pavilion on Saturday and Sunday. Billed as ringing in the season with “the brilliance of Bach, the beauty of ‘The Lark Ascending’ and the magic of the holidays,” the orchestra delivered on all three in an exciting evening of accomplished performances and widespread community involvement.

Opening was Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major,” a fanfare and fugal overture followed by five light dance movements, the first of which is the familiar and beautiful “Air on the G String.” While there were magical moments, especially Andy Schaffner’s harpsichord, the piece seemed to lack clarity and enthusiasm in several spots.

Following was the concert highlight, the sublime “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams. Music director Ernest Richardson’s description of the lark’s journey — that he grows more fully into his essence as he, and by extension we humans, enlarges his perspective by climbing ever higher — added immeasurably to the audience’s enjoyment. Teresa Steffen Greenlee’s virtuosic solo representing the lark’s flight sent the audience heavenward in the evening’s most moving performance.

The second half featured traditional and contemporary holiday fare, beginning with a jaunty and joyful “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” A rarely performed Christmas polonaise by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov added welcome new seasonal repertoire. Richardson’s spirited conducting and singing of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” brought great mirth, as did his time-honored rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” in which lucky audience youngsters are chosen to play the bells and the whip.

The orchestra’s commitment to music education for Routt County’s youths became palpable in “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” featuring young soloists Jacob VanDerWerf and Willy Gunn plus another dozen young musicians. With the swirling snow visible through the Strings Music Pavilion windows, the setting was perfect for this much-beloved carol, beautifully arranged by Richardson.

The 55-member Yampa Valley Chorus, ably prepared by Steamboat choral musician Anna Jones, took center stage for three songs from the movie “Home Alone” in delightfully romantic orchestrations by Hollywood icon John Williams. Evoking moods of Christmas wonder, joy, memory and mystery, the chorus sang with heart and feeling. Handel’s magnificent “Hallelujah Chorus” offered a preview of the upcoming Yampa Valley Chorus Messiah concert at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs.

The annual Christmas Sing-along finale employed the orchestra’s full force along with the young musicians, the Yampa Valley Chorus and singing audience members. This blitz of holiday spirit sent any Grinches left in the audience into the wintry night full of goodwill and grateful for the community treasure that is the Steamboat Springs Orchestra.

Valerie Davia sings in the Yampa Valley Chorus and is on the board of the Emerald City Opera.

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