The Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra presented “Home for the Holidays: Music of the Season” Sunday afternoon at the Pine Bluff Convention Center auditorium before several hundred people.
The show featured several guest performers with Pine Bluff and regional roots who blended beautifully with the always enjoyable orchestra to create one of the most entertaining Christmas performances in years.
PBSO music director/conductor Charles Jones Evans led his musicians through a montage of Christmas classics in an arrangement by Leroy Anderson entitled Christmas Festival to kick off the festivities.
Eleanor Pearl, the daughter of Kathy Majewska and Jack Stradley of Pine Bluff, is in her final year of studying the vocal arts at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and graced the stage Sunday with three stellar soprano performances accompanied by the PBSO.
Pearl performed Exsultate, jubilate and Alleluia from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate Motet, K. 165 with a precision and passion that belies her young age.
When Pearl hits a high note it reverberates throughout the auditorium and leaves little doubt as to future success in her chosen medium.
Pearl completed her performance with Cantique de Noel, better known by its English title O Holy Night, composed by Adolph Adam.
Pearl’s soaring vocals were richly accompanied by the orchestra, with the violins and French horns adding further depth to the performance.
An extra special treat was provided by the arrival onstage of the Episcopal Collegiate School “Steelcats” and their steel drums.
The Steelcats proceeded to re-purpose a group of instruments more at home on a Caribbean island or a cruise ship into a wonderful medium for the performance of some Christmas classics.
Joy to the World by Georg Friderich Handel and arranged by Bartsch/Saoud and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen arranged by Bartsch/Saoud were performed in a brilliant harmonic mash up that can only be called steel drums meet orchestra.
The intimate atmosphere created by the steel drums blended effortlessly with the sweeping scope of the orchestra in both arrangements, with the drummers leading things off before being joined by the PBSO.
Pan Christmas arranged by Jeff Borckardt, gave the Steelcats their solo opportunity, which was put to good use through the syncopated rhythms.
Watching the drummers use their twin mallets in perfect unison as they swept around the circumference of their drums to produce hypnotic sounds created an entirely new Christmas tradition that was clearly enjoyed by the audience as evidenced by its vigorous applause at the finale.
The orchestra was left again to its devices to close out the opening half of the concert, performing “Farandole” from incidental music to the play, L’Arlesienne (The Girl from Arles) by Georges Bizet.
The second act began with a dazzling feast for the ears and eyes as the PBSO performed selections from the ballet The Nutcracker by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, accompanied by exquisite dancers from the Arkansas Festival Ballet of Little Rock.
The orchestra performed Grand Pas de Deux as the Sugar Plum Fairy portrayed by Emily Karnes and the Prince portrayed by Matthew Morley danced together in a series of beautiful, fluid ballet movements, with the Prince at times lifting the Fairy high above his head to applause from the audience.
The PBSO performance of the Spanish Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Chinese Dance, the Dance of the Reed Flutes and the Russian Dance were each matched with dancers in elaborate costumes fitting to the ethnicity of the moment.
In perhaps two of the most recognizable tunes of The Nutcracker, the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy and the Waltz of the Flowers, the PBSO performed to near perfection with each section at the top of their game.
The Waltz saw 13 AFB dancers in outfits depicting flowers of nearly every color in the rainbow as they moved across the stage.
Finally, the audience joined in with the PBSO in the traditional Christmas Carol Singalong arranged by John Finnegan, with parts of Jingle Bells, Joy to the World, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, Deck the Hall and O Come, All Ye Faithful sung.
This year’s Home for the Holidays was truly one to remember and delivered a very special holiday experience.