The Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra held their annual holiday concert, “Winter Wonderland,” Friday at the Boutell Memorial Concert Hall. The concert featured two hours of various winter-themed music from oldies like Johnny Marks’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to the “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.
The first half of the concert began with Leroy Anderson’s familiar medley, “A Christmas Festival,” followed by the conductor, NIU Alumnus Linc Smelser, promising the crowd to “warm it up” in light of the cold Illinois winter. Warm it up they did, as the orchestra moved into a fittingly locomotive arrangement of the music from the 2004 film “The Polar Express.”
The familiar pieces were interspersed with interesting choices, featuring solos from Concertmaster Ann Montzka Smelser and Principal Cellist Tom Cappaert in Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto,” as well as enthralling Arabic-inspired melodies from the woodwinds during Ottorino Respighi’s “Adoration of the Magi.”
The interlude brought the audience back into the lobby as the DeKalb High School Madrigal Singers performed. The atmosphere was warm with attendees crowded around, happy to be back once again for what appeared to be an annual tradition for some.
The concert’s final half opened with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” from “The Nutcracker Ballet” along with the conductor’s joking apology to the composer for the “sophisticated and domesticated” arrangement.
Smelser invited the children in the audience up to the stage to take part in Joseph Haydn’s “Toy Symphony.” The children triumphantly rose to the challenge, banging their toy drums and chimes at the conductor’s cue as the orchestra swelled, leaving the audience delighted.
Marybeth Kurnat, an NIU alumna currently working as a music instructor for the DeKalb school district, was brought out as a soloist for charming holiday classics like Oakley Haldeman and Gene Autry’s “Here Comes Santa Claus,” J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” and Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Both of these tunes were arranged by Patrick Sheehan, one more NIU alumnus contributing to the orchestra’s continued success.
The concert closed with a rousing rendition of George Handel’s Hallelujah chorus from “The Messiah,” for which Smelson invited attendees to sing along. The crowd contentedly sang as the orchestra closed the show, looking forward to the hand-baked treats waiting in the lobby and the coming of Christmas, warmed by another cozy holiday concert from the Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra.