For the first time in memory, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Holiday Pops programs won’t close with an audience sing-along — but don’t worry, you won’t be left out!
“We don’t have a sing-along this time because, to me, the role of the audience should be different,” explains José Daniel Flores-Caraballo, director of the VSO Chorus.
“I don’t like the program ending with a sing-along,” he said recently by phone. “I would rather have the audience be part of the performance. So this is why I have them singing different times as part of the program.”
Flores-Caraballo will conduct the VSO and VSO Chorus in the annual VSO Holiday Pops concerts: at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Barre Opera House; at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at Burlington’s Flynn Center; and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre. Standup comedian and storyteller Hillary Boone will host the shows.
From an a cappella version of “Jingle Bells” to the Vermont premiere of “Little Tree,” to well-known holiday favorites, the atmosphere will be traditional, with just a dash of holiday spice. The orchestra and chorus will also pay tribute to the late Robert De Cormier, VSO Chorus founder and acclaimed conductor, arranger and director, with three of his unique arrangements: “Ritsch Ratsch Filibom,” “Lullay My Liking” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”
“Robert was so dear to me, as he was to the chorus and the audience,” Flores-Caraballo said. “I consider this a very personal and profound privilege to perform his music.”
One of Flores-Caraballo’s favorites is the David Willocks arrangement of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
“It’s so well written,” Flores-Caraballo said. It’s one of those pieces where both the orchestra and chorus excel. You don’t feel like one is done at the expense of the other. I find it to be such a beautiful piece.”
Another highlight for Flores-Caraballo is “The Many Moods of Christmas, Suite 2,” arranged by the great choral conductor Robert Shaw (and De Cormier’s mentor), which closes the first half.
“I have a special affection for these suites for a number of reasons,” Flores-Caraballo said. “I think each contains some of the most recognizable, favorite Christmas and holiday tunes. It’s not all sacred. The same as with the Mendelssohn, this is a piece for choir and orchestra. It’s both reflective and very festive.”
Flores-Caraballo is also looking forward to introducing Vermont audiences to Murray’s “Little Tree,” which he premiered with the Albany (New York) Pro Musica, where he is artistic director.
“It’s a wonderful piece that I anticipate that the audience will love as much as the choir already does,” he said. “It’s about the wonder this child has as he or she encounters the magic of the Christmas tree. It’s a very beautiful poem by E. E. Cummings.”
Creating a holiday program is a particular challenge because of the diversity of the holiday audiences.
“You will have there people who come from a Christian tradition and you have others who don’t care much about that, and care more about the secular aspect of the holiday season,” Flores-Caraballo said. “And then you have people of different beliefs. And we’re trying to please a general audience, but you also have people who are regulars at symphony concerts and want to hear some serious music.”
And then there are the chorus and the orchestra.
“That’s a very important element,” Flores-Caraballo said. “When I program a concert, I want to make sure that it is of interest to the performers as well, otherwise they don’t make the effort to produce a quality performance.”
And to that end, Flores-Caraballo has expanded the VSO Chorus. In order to allow more singers to participate, he has divided rehearsals between Burlington and Rutland.
“I’m very pleased with the fact that we have a hundred voices,” Flores-Caraballo said. “They are very excited with the program.”