Symphony fills Heinz Hall with holiday spirit, dance
The Pittsburgh Symphony pulled out all the stops for its 2015 Highmark Holiday Pops, filling the Heinz Hall stage with not only the orchestra and Mendelssohn Choir, but bell ringers, vocal soloists and dancers.
Guest conductor Daniel Meyers got the festivities going by leading a grandiose arrangement of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” with the choir’s contribution underlined by powerful brass and timpani. Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival,” a medley of beloved holiday tunes, was more to my taste because nothing felt inflated.
The first of the contributions by Attack Theatre’s dancers was in Lucas Richman’s “Reindeer Variations,” in which each dancer portrayed one of Santa’s team with infectious personality and panache.
The new choreography for Ralph Vaughn Williams “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” on the concert’s second half, was a beautifully direct and affectionate duet for a man and woman.
Christopher Sanders was a big and boisterous Santa whose best work came when he visited children in the audience — faithfully recorded by the Santa Cam and projected on a screen above the orchestra.
The Holiday Pops concerts mark the solo debut of vocalist Chris Jamison, who found fame last year as one of the finalists of the television show “The Voice.” Ten years ago, he sang with a North Hills vocal group for a Holiday Pops with the late Marvin Hamlisch.
Jamison’s first number was Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” performed with his own added accents and backed by the symphony’s White Tie Group, a jazz trio with Harold Smoliar on piano, Jeffrey Grubbs on bass and Andrew Reamer on percussion. Jamison also sang a new song, showing how much he likes introspective singing, and collaborated with Sanders and the choir on “Silent Night.”
The Three Rivers Ringers opened the second half with “I Saw Three Ships” with the Mendelssohn Choir, with which they also performed “Carol of the Bells.” But their most impressive work was “The First Noel” in an arrangement for handbells only, showcasing both the soft beauty of their instruments and the skill with which the 18 musicians created smooth lines.
This concert will be repeated at 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 19, and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 20 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $24 to $99. Details: pittsburghsymphony.org.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media.