MSO, Capitol Quartet Swing Christmas
Midland Symphony Orchestra concertgoers got a two-for-one holiday show, as the orchestra was joined by the lively and swinging Capitol Quartet.
The Saturday night concert at the Midland Center for the Arts drew a near-capacity crowd, and it responded with enthusiasm to the varied program.
It was essentially two concerts -- the first half showcased the MSO and during the second half, the MSO became a classy big band backing the saxophone quartet.
The program, labeled "Swingin' Holiday Pops," definitely had a pops feel and much more casual vibe than most MSO concerts. The talented quartet brought a big dose of humor to the proceedings, as tenor saxophonist and quartet executive producer David Stambler tossed out quips at every opportunity.
Whether it was "Winter Wonderland," "Let It Snow," a snippet of "Carol of the Bells" or "Jingle Bells," the sax players dazzled. Clearly having a blast, the four players brought a fresh feel to the familiar tunes. A tribute to Bach arranged by Stambler, called "Fugue Well-Tempered," was a chance for the four sax professors to show off their classical credentials -- with swing, of course.
As the title indicates, the "Nutcracker Swing" took the familiar tunes of Tchaikovsky's classic ballet and added a hard-swinging jazzy twist. It was a bit jarring, with the jazz twists drawing a few chuckles from the audience with the abrupt shifts from romantic Russian ballet music to big band jazz.
One performer in particular seemed to drive the second hall -- drummer David Tucker, who often accompanies the Capitol Quartet. Stambler accurately pointed out that Tucker was "driving the bus."
Tucker's website says he studied with "Tonight Show" band drummer Ed Shaughnessy and the orchestra, which brought to mind that ensemble during the Johnny Carson era when Doc Severinsen was band leader.
The quartet played it straight for their encore, offering a sweet rendition of "Silent Night." They couldn't resist one last display of skill, though, with "Flight of the Bumblebee."
The MSO was in good form, led by guest conductor Joan Landry. The opening piece of the concert, "Improvisations on Christmas Carols," brought together unusual arrangements of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "I Saw Three Ships" and "Ding Dong Merrily on High." The last carol was given an especially dramatic reading.
A 1998 piece, "Variations on 'In dulci Jubilo,'" provided five variations on a medieval carol. Composer Terry Mizesko offered versions that were variously martial, whimsical, majestic and Copland-esque.
The "Blue Danube" waltz was performed as a nod to New Year's Day in Vienna, where the annual Jan. 1 concert always features the familiar waltz as an encore, according to Landry.
The first half concluded with the perennial favorite "Sleigh Ride" by Leroy Anderson. Landry said the tune was the most-played holiday song on the radio in 2010, and it does seem to have become more and more popular since Anderson's death in 1975.
If there was a subtle jewel in the concert, it was the "Christmas Eve Polonaise" by Rimsky-Korsakov, which began the second half of the program, before the Capitol Quartet came onstage. It managed to be both lively and stately-- a delightful Christmas treat that stood out even among so many appetizing selections.
— Roger Bryant, Midland Daily News