Knoxville Symphony resident conductor James Fellenbaum, conducting the KSO Chamber Orchestra with the Webb School of Knoxville Chamber Singers as guests performers, was comfortable working with both the professional musicians of the KSO and the student singers. He was also natural and relaxed talking to the audience.
Something else was also obvious. Even though Fellenbaum introduced the piece before they began playing it, the full house of parents and grandparents, at the concert mostly to see their Webb School children, were clearly unaware of the 275-year tradition of standing for the “Hallelujah Chorus” from George Friderich Handel’s “Messiah” that ended the first half of the concert.
They slowly stood. But only after prompting by those who knew the cultural custom of the most popular choral work in Western classical music. It is, admittedly, an odd custom. But one, nevertheless, well known to audiences accustomed to classical music.
The first half of the concert was a mixture of popular holiday music, especially the orchestral arrangements of Leroy Anderson and the almost mandatory “Greensleeves,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which featured a lovely flute solo by KSO principal flute Hannah Hammel, with Zachary Hughes playing the electronic keyboard set to harp stops.
Music by Tchaikoysky and Berlioz completed the section of the program.
More Handel music, “Glory to God,” also from “Messiah,” opened the program. It featured trumpet players Brian Winegardner and Shawn White playing the high-pitched piccolo trumpets, not often heard in the orchestra.
Two choral pieces by John Rutter preceded a wonderful performance of Morten Lauridsen’s magnificent a cappella work “O Magnum Mysterium,” augmented in this concert by the chamber orchestra strings. It was beautifully sung by the excellent Webb singers.
To prove just how good a vocal ensemble this high school choral group is, they next sang a joyful, unaccompanied, conductorless, mash-up of “12 Days of Christmas” with fragments of half a dozen or more holiday tunes mixed in, to total delight.
It was the first of two of the best performances of the concert.
The second, with which the concert ended, was vigorous execution by both orchestra and chorus of Georges Bizet’s “Farandole from “L’Arlesienne, Suite No. 2.”
What more could get the holiday season off to a great start.