RUTLAND — Unfettered enthusiasm greeted the Vermont Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops Concert Sunday at the Paramount Theatre. Fortunately, it was not just style over substance. The program was also performed at the Barre Opera House Friday and Burlington’s Flynn Center Saturday.
The catalyst for Sunday’s enthusiasm was guest conductor Chelsea Tipton II, who led the VSO in a program that was fun and musically rewarding. In many ways the biggest audience pleaser was a sing-along of the Wagner-Larson “How Great Our Joy,” a medley of four famous carols. However, in this brilliant arrangement, performed by the VSO with the Bronze Ambassadors youth hand-bell choir, the melodies were nearly hidden in the complex orchestration.
Despite Tipton’s queues, the audience quite timidly began singing “Joy to the World,” but by the final “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” it was rip-roaring. And the audience was so pleased with Tipton, the VSO and itself that it roared its approval. They were challenged and they did it.
Sunday’s guest artists were the 16 members of the excellent Bronze Ambassadors, participants in the hand-bell program, directed by Kimberlee Strepka, of the United Christian Academy in Newport. It was impressive to watch these teens, ages 13 to 18, coordinate their ringing precisely with Tipton and the VSO professionals. Strepka led her young virtuosos unaccompanied in the charming “Coventry Carol.”
The musical highlight of the program was Italian Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto.” Tipton showed great rapport with the VSO strings in a performance that was crisp and precise, yet delivered the work’s innate romantic warmth. Section leaders, violinists Letitia Quante and Brooke Quiggins and cellist John Dunlop, were the able soloists in this five-movement celebratory concerto grosso.
In fact, the first half was devoted to more “classical” works, including the colorful Polonaise from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Christmas Eve” and the sensual and demanding Farandole from Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne” Suite No. 2. The program opened with African-American classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s evocative “Christmas Overture.”
A couple of works might be called crossovers. J.S. Pierpont’s “Tintinabulations” was a set of variations on “Jingle Bells,” in the style of a Rossini overture, a Strauss waltz, big band swing, and a country hoe down. Mere intriguing though was David Lovrien’s “Minor Alterations,” which changing normally uplifting popular carols to minor keys for a whole new appreciation.
In the spirit of this excellent program proving that holiday pops need not be holiday schlock, it closed with Robert Wendel’s delicious “Christmas à la Valse,” turning a bunch of carols into waltzes. It was delightful.
Tipton created a truly inspired holiday program, and the members of the VSO responded — as did the audience.