Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Saginaw Bay Symphony goes on two sleigh rides

“Sleigh Ride” followed by “Sleigh Ride.”
That was the fun piece of programming which began the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s near-capacity “A Classical Christmas” concert Tuesday night at the Temple -- and newly hired maestro Brett Mitchell’s first turn at the annual event in downtown Saginaw.
The first “Sleigh Ride’ was the familiar Leroy Anderson pops one, with the orchestra creating the sound of a cracking whip and a horse whiny. It was, as is tradition, played with great gusto.
Mitchell then explained there are many “Sleigh Ride” compositions in the world of music. Even Mozart and his dad wrote ones. So Mitchell dusted off a rarely heard and more pastoral one composed by Frederick Delius, Soft, a bit romantic in the middle, wintery woodsy. Lushly played.
Causing us to think, hmmmm, a whole concert someday of just “Sleigh Rides” throughout history. Probably not, but it is an intriguing thought.
Although the chatty Mitchell labeled his concert “A Classical Christmas” it was more classical light, and had plenty of pops with the playing of music from the theater and movies -- as in “The Sound of Music” and “Home Alone.” And there was that old Christmas warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Also familiar was the more classical, and fantastic, Fantasia on “Greensleeves” by Vaughan Williams, “March of the Toys” from Victor Herbert’s operetta “Babes in Toyland” and Anderson’s singalong “A Christmas Festival.”
But another “new” and fun mix into the evening was contemporary composer Samuel Barber’s take on “Silent Night” -- which found different instruments of the orchestra playing the familiar theme while the orchestra as a whole did its Barber thing. Great piece. And it left us wanting more of the classical in the classical theme as well as “new” takes on the old, the latter of which we have been treated to in the previous Yuletide concerts conducted by Gregory Largent.
Also a disappointment was the lack of much to do for the greatly diminished-in-size SBSO All-Star Honors Chorus from area high schools. They sang only on the “Home Alone” medley, often overpowered by the orchestra. This seemed less a community Christmas concert than in the past and just a little less fun.
That said, however, it was an enjoyable one and filled with the same superb orchestral sound Mitchell achieved in his first concert this past fall.
In the “Nutcracker” the musicians wildly sand flamboyantly danced the “Russian Dance” and then did an about turn with the dreamy and mellow “Arabian Dance,” Harpist Margot Hayward shone throughout the evening in the “Greensleeves,” “Waltz of the Flowers” from “Nutcracker” and one of the “Home Alone” entries. Other orchestral standouts were the horns, the flutes, the strings, the celeste.


  1. You got that right! Is anyone else bothered by the dumbing down of classical music events? Choral Society, Symphony, Saginaw Valley Concert Association?? Apparently concerts aren't much of a draw anymore unless there is plenty of jazz, pop, humor and other dilutions to the classical music experience.

    Don't get me wrong...I enjoyed the concert very much and expect good things from the young Mr. Mitchell. (A gentleman sitting behind me who was new to the community loudly said "he's just a BABY! when the new conductor came out.)I enjoy the Choral Society's concerts and the offerings of the SVCA and I realize that they have to make money and attract audiences just to exist but I'm saddened by this trend.

  2. I thought the concert was brilliant in its performance and in the musical choices. I thought it was a lovely and unusual blend of the expected and the unexpected in Christmas music. I am sure that people who attended the symphony for the first time will be intrigued enough to want to come back for more. I think that programming for events like this is a challenge, because you want to select interesting music without being too elitist. The point is not just to provide fine music, played well, for the faithful music lovers, but to attract new patrons as well. I commend Mr. Mitchell's choices. He may look like a baby to some, but his credentials prove that he is a seasoned maestro. Thank you once again, selection committee, for choosing him.