David B. Knight’s Engaging Program Notes
Youngsters and the not so young— dare I say oldsters? — will enjoy this celebration by the GSO and its young musician friends as we look forward to sharing special times with family and friends and perhaps, too, exchanging presents. Music that speaks to the heart helps us to reflect on the meaning we gain from this time of the year, music that knows no bounds.
Leroy Anderson’s exiting Sleigh Ride will get us off to a wonderful start, as we are taken for a ride across the snow-covered landscape, with jingle bells ringing. This bubbly work is one of numerous light-hearted musical pleasantries that Anderson (1908-1975) composed, all made popular by the famous Boston Pops Orchestra.
Luther Henderson (1919-2003). An African American composer raised in Harlem, New York, he studied at the Julliard School of Music and became known as an arranger and orchestrator for such greats as Duke Ellington, Liza Minnelli, and Eartha Kitt, and for numerous Broadway productions. Also, he arranged over a hundred pieces for the Canadian Brass, including tunes for their popular recording, A Canadian Brass Christmas. We will hear a medley from that collection, adapted by the talented Calvin Custer, featuring Ding Dong! Merrily On High, I Saw Three Ships, The Huron Carol, and Here We Come A-Wassailing.
Next, another sleigh ride, this one composed by Sergei Prokoviev (1891-1953), namely, Troika, the most popular number in the Orchestral Suite that comes from the score Prokofiev wrote for the 1934 Soviet film “Lieutenant Kijé.” A ‘troika’ is a three-horse sleigh, so this music is often heard at Christmas time.
Children and their parents surely know or at least know of the delightful 2004 movie Polar Express, based on the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. It tells the story of a doubting young boy who takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole where he discovers that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. The suite we will hear from the movie’s music by Alan Silvestri (1950- ) includes Believe, co-written with Glen Ballard (1953- ), that won Grammy and Golden Globe Awards.
Prepare to be astonished for Moses Fantasy by Niccolò Paganini offers us a magical exploration of what an excellent string player can achieve. Paganini (1782-1840), a brilliant and widely celebrated Italian violin virtuoso, performed what he composed, including the piece we are to hear today. Interestingly, it has been played on violin, on cello, and even on double bass. Based on a theme written by Rossini, this inventive composition makes huge demands on the performer—but not on you, the listener!
Christmas Eve Suite (1904) by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) is drawn from the music for his opera, Christmas Eve (1895). Filled with wonderful colours and images, the five movement suite consists of the opera’s introduction (“Holy Night”), the Flight of Vakula, Moon and Stars, Polonaise, Return Flight of Vakula and Christmas Morning Bells.
Bob Krogstadt (1951-2015) focused on Christmas in many of his numerous heartwarming arrangements for orchestra (and, today, members of the Guelph Youth Symphony). One of them, The Bells of Christmas, will reprise for us some classic carols and holiday songs, notably, Ding Dong! Merrily on High, The Bell Carol, Silver Bells, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and Jingle Bells.