Chamber Orchestra, Chorale charm with holiday classics boasting twists

Harold DuckettArts 865, Feature

A near sell-out crowd came to the Bijou Theatre to hear the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra and the Knoxville Chamber Chorale in their traditional holiday concert. They were not disappointed.


The KSO Chamber Classics concerts are consistently among the best concerts the Knoxville Symphony presents. Since the arrival of music director and conductor Aram Demirjian, they have also included an unexpected surprise or two that always adds to the enjoyment.

While the music of these holiday concerts is mostly pieces everyone knows, KSO resident conductor James Fellenbaum delivered several of them on Sunday in versions other than the usual forms.

Among those were three arrangements by American composer and arranger Leroy Anderson: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Pastores a Belén.” Anderson is a master orchestrator. Fellenbaum is a gifted conductor.

Anderson is a genius at sending melodies around the orchestra so that his audiences hear the tunes coming from places that don’t always have the leading voices. In Fellenbaum’s hands, the execution was flawless.

In Italian composer Pietro Yon’s “Gesu Bambino,” concertmaster William Shaub played a charming solo melody that was set against the texture of the orchestra.

After the “Christmas Waltz” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons,” the Chamber Chorale came on stage to join the orchestra for a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob” from Mendelssohn’s “Christus.”

The first half ended with the “Hallelujah” chorus from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

The second half began with more music from Handel’s “Messiah,” “And the Glory of the Lord.”

Although all of the music on the program was well done, there were still pieces that stood out.

Together with Shaub’s solo playing, in the second half of the concert, Knoxville Choral Society conductor John Orr took the podium to conduct the Chamber Chorale in an endearing, wonderful a cappella performance of Connor Koppin’s “There Is a Rose.”

In a concert of fine performances, it was the piece that will stick in my memory. Orr’s conducting command is a joy to watch. The chorale responded with clear, warm singing of even the softest notes.

The chorale and orchestra also performed two of 20th-century English composer John Rutter’s wonderfully written choral pieces that have become part of choral literature that everyone sings: “Three Kings of Orient” and “Star Carol.”

The “Farandole” from Georges Bizet’s “l’Arlesienne Suite No. 2” brought the concert to a conclusion.

It was clear from the scattered way members of the audience stood for the performance of the “Hallelujah” chorus,” a tradition that goes back to a 1743 performance during which King George II stood, many were attending their first concert. That’s a wonderful indicator for both the city and the orchestra.

These afternoon chamber orchestra concerts are perfect for people who don’t have time for weeknight programs, or no longer drive at night at all.

More information about the next chamber concert or tickets for other KSO concert programs can be found here.

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