In its free concert at 2 p.m. Saturday, the Oak Ridge Community Orchestra will play well-known music associated with traditional celebrations in December.
“Everyone will immediately recognize the dashing ‘Sleigh Ride’ by Leroy Anderson, and the Christmas carols captured by William Burkhart in his special arrangement, ‘While in the Fields,'” a press release said. “You can savor the traditional Russian flavor with ‘Polonaise’ from the ‘Christmas Eve Suite’ by Rimsky-Korsakov, and ‘Russian Christmas Music’ by Alfred Reed. Moreover, you will enjoy the lilting style of traditional Jewish music in ‘Festive Sounds of Hanukah’ by Bill Holcombe.”
This eclectic mix of celebratory seasonal music will be performed at 2 pm. Saturday in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge, on the corner of the Oak Ridge Turnpike and LaFayette Drive. Admission is free. But, modest donations at the door to support the orchestra’s routine operating expenses will be appreciated.
Here is more information on the composers whose music will be played Saturday:
Leroy Anderson (1908 – 1975) is best remembered for his long alliance in composing music performed by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. This affiliation began in 1936, and continued for the rest of his life. It was interrupted for two stints in the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corp, the first in World War II, where his fluency in Scandinavian and European languages was a major asset, and the second during the Korean War. His list of compositions tops 95, including such hits as “The Syncopated Clock,” “Blue Tango,” “The Typewriter,” “The Sandpaper Ballet,” “Bugler’s Holiday,” and “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby.” He started composing “Sleigh Ride” in July 1946 and finished it in February 1948. Ever since, it has been a popular staple of the winter season. See if you can find the horse that reveals its presence with a whinny near the end of the piece.
Will Burkhart is the current conductor of the ORCO. In 2011, he wrote a special “Christmas Carol Choral Fantasy” that premiered in December of that year as a joint performance by the ORCO and the Children’s Choir of the Christian Academy of Knoxville. “While in the Fields” is the third section of that five-movement suite. It has been rearranged to substitute instruments for the original children’s voices. As you listen, you will hear the Christmas carols “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “While in the Fields,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “We Three Kings,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
Russian music has a special intensity not duplicated in the style from any other nationality. This strength is evident in Polonaise by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844 – 1908). This piece comes from the suite of instrumental music extracted from his 1895 opera “Christmas Eve.” In the opera, the “Polonaise” is a song praising the Tsaritsa in St. Petersburg, sung by a chorus of Cossacks, hoping to impress the Empress. Shortly after this chorus, the Tsaritsa gives the hero, Vakula, her slippers, which he conveys to his sweetheart, Oksana, to win her hand in marriage. The entire opera involves some wild fantasies, including Solokha stealing the moon for the Devil, her son Vakula flying to St. Petersburg on the back of the Devil, and Solokha trying to interfere, while flying on a broom.
The 1944 composition by Alfred Reed (1921 – 2005), “Russian Christmas Music,” captures the true character of traditional Russian Orthodox music. It begins quietly and slowly with the 16th-century “Carol of the Little Russian Children,” then builds to the “Antiphonal Chant.” The “Village” song in the third section of the composition prepares for a spectacular finish with an instrumental version of “The Cathedral Chorus.” This is a unique and memorable rendition of seasonal music that stands apart from what one usually hears on the radio in December. It was originally composed for a symphonic band, and then transcribed for orchestra in 1995 by Clark McAllister, a student of Reed.
Bill Holcombe (1924-2010) was best known as a composer and arranger. But he also played saxophone and woodwinds while arranging for the Tommy Dorsey Band, and with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Additionally, he scored music for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movies and The 101 Strings. In his 1985 arrangement, “Festive Sounds of Hanukah,” he navigates the audience through the enjoyable melodies of “Rock of Ages,” “Mi Y’ Malel (Who Can Retell),” “Hanukah – Hanukah,” “My Dreidel,” “S’Vivon (Spin Dreidel),” and “Hanukah – O Hanukah.”
The Oak Ridge Community Orchestra is a 501(c)3, nonprofit, volunteer organization. Anyone wishing to regularly participate in the orchestra is encouraged to contact Personnel Manager Cyndi Jeffers at [email protected]. The orchestra welcomes musicians of all ages with at least four years of experience. For more information about the ORCO, visit www.OakRidgeCommunityOrchestra.com.