• Music Review: Holiday pops much more than the same old
    By Jim Lowe
     | December 09,2012
    Jim Lowe / Staff Photo

    Dawn Willis leads the audience in a carol singalong at the VSO Holiday Pops concert at the Barre Opera House on Friday. The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. today at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre.

    For the occasional concertgoer, holiday music programs are a joy, reminding us of everything we hold dear about the time of Christmas and Hanukkah.

    But, for the music aficionado, these same programs become the dreary same old, same old, same old.

    That is, unless the program is created and directed by Robert De Cormier, founding director of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus. On Friday at the Barre Opera House, De Cormier led the VSO and VSO Chorus in a program that was full of the familiar, new takes on the familiar — and some new traditions to celebrate.

    (The same program was presented on Saturday at Burlington’s Flynn Center and will be performed at 3 p.m. today at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre.)

    At 90 years old, De Cormier, still one of this country’s foremost choral conductors, is at no loss for ideas and the ability to execute them. It was in the more classic prologue to Vaughan Williams’ “Hodie” that he led the chorus and orchestra in its most beautiful performance. The complex and spicy orchestration complemented the rich choral sound and message, beautifully delivered.

    More novel, De Cormier led the chorus and orchestra in what is thought to be Gruber’s original “Silent Night,” familiar but more elegant and lyrical than what we are accustomed to. De Cormier juxtaposed Mozart’s and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” Although it was filled with appropriate sleigh bells, the Mozart (from his German Dances) was light and elegant. The Anderson, well, it wasn’t — but it was lots of fun.

    De Cormier introduced an impressive work by 18-year-old Jacob Morton-Black, a Colchester High School senior and a product of Vermont’s Music-COMP, a high school composition mentoring program. Morton-Black’s “Danse Slav et Valse” for orchestra proved a lively work based on Russian themes. The simple themes belied the work’s complex harmonic language and colorful orchestration. It was a real pleasure.

    After “The 12 Days of Christmas,” Louise De Cormier, Robert’s wife and a former Weston Playhouse actress, read letters from the unhappy girl receiving the gifts — hilarious.

    You can’t get more traditional than “Messiah,” and Dawn Willis, the VSO Chorus’s assistant conductor, led the chorus and orchestra in a 10-minute version of Handel’s masterpiece. Willis led a performance that was not only spirited but clean and clear — you could actually understand the words — of “Unto Us a Child Is Born,” “Pifa” and “Glory to God.” And, of course, it closed with the audience rising for the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

    Truly charming were two Hanukkah songs by Woody Guthrie, arranged and orchestrated by De Cormier. Intriguing and fun were “Tintinabulations,” variations for orchestra on “Jingle Bells” in multiple recognizable styles. Just as fascinating was the complex orchestral work, “Pat-a-pan, a Fantasy,” by Hershy Kay, originally written for the Cleveland Orchestra.

    The carol sing-along, led by Willis, had even the aficionados lending their voices enthusiastically. And De Cormier closed the program — most appropriately — with “Why Can’t We Have Christmas the Whole Year Around?”

    VSO Holiday Pops

    Robert De Cormier will lead the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the VSO Holiday Pops at 3 p.m. today (Dec. 9) at the Paramount Theatre, 30 Center St. in Rutland. Tickets are $20-$30, or $16-$24 for seniors, or $9 for students. Call 775-0903, or go online to www.paramountlive.org. For information about upcoming VSO programs, go online to www.vso.org.

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