Saturday, December 6, 2014 • 2:00 p.m.
Seattle First Free Methodist Church
Seattle Chamber Singers
Clinton Smith, conductor
Eugene Kidder, narrator
Leroy Anderson (1908–1975)
A Christmas Festival
John Rutter (*1945)
Brother Heinrich’s Christmas
Alan Silvestri (*1950)/arr. Jerry Brubaker
Suite from The Polar Express
**arr. Robert Shaw and Robert Russell Bennett
The Many Moods of Christmas, Suite IV
**arr. John Finnegan
About the Concert
Your entire family can celebrate the season with our afternoon of holiday pops. Take a ride on the Polar Express! Experience the story of Brother Heinrich and a musical donkey that creates a new Christmas carol before your very eyes and ears! Robert Shaw’s rich choral arrangements will satisfy your craving for beautifully sung Yuletide favorites. And to top it off, join the fabulous Seattle Chamber Singers in a sing-a-long that will get you in the Christmas spirit!
American composer Leroy Anderson (1908–1975) was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he went on to major in music at Harvard University. Playing trombone in the band and double bass in the orchestra, he studied composition with Walter Piston and Georges Enescu. While pursuing a Ph.D. in Germanic and Scandinavian languages, Anderson continued working as a director and arranger for the Harvard Band, his talents eventually attracting the attention of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. In 1939, Fiedler and the Pops recorded Jazz Pizzicato, Anderson’s first published composition. After military service as an interpreter during World War II, Anderson continued his association with the Pops, which premiered many of his most popular works, including The Syncopated Clock, Fiddle-Faddle and Trumpeter’s Lullaby.
Anderson created A Christmas Festival for a Pops LP recorded during June 1950. “Arthur Fiedler asked me to do a concert overture,” Anderson later recalled. “I selected the [carols] that were the most popular and best known, and then I took them and tried to give instrumental treatment to them; in other words, it’s not a medley, that isn’t what we wanted to do . I rather took the themes and built, you might say, a concert overture around the Christmas songs.” Anderson devised his nine-minute overture in such a way that it could be recorded in two pieces for release on the two sides of a 78 rpm single. When preparing the piece for publication, he “realized most conductors would not want a selection of this length, so I made a shorter version myself, rather than have them try to make makeshift cuts.”
Born in London in 1945 and educated at Cambridge, John Rutter reigns as the most popular choral composer and conductor of his generation. In 1981 he founded the Cambridge Singers, and the following year they joined the City of London Sinfonia, a children’s chorus and children’s author Nanette Newman to record a television Christmas special at Salisbury Cathedral, for which Rutter composed Brother Heinrich’s Christmas, narrated by Newman. Featuring solo roles for oboe and bassoon, Rutter’s original story imagines that medieval monk Heinrich Suso had some assistance from his donkey, Sigismund, along with divine inspiration when he composed the carol In dulci jubilo.
As a composer of light orchestral miniatures, Leroy Anderson stood unrivaled during the middle part of the previous century. In 1950, Decca signed him to a recording contract, and two years later his Blue Tango became the first instrumental to hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. Although many of his once-ubiquitous melodies have faded from public consciousness (The Typewriter and The Syncopated Clock might require some explanation to youngsters of the digital generation), one work has only become more popular over time: Sleigh Ride. Anderson began composing it during a July 1946 heat wave at his Woodbury, Connecticut home; Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops first recorded it in 1949. The following year, Mitchell Parish penned lyrics for a vocal version first recorded by the Andrews Sisters.
Largely a self-taught composer, Alan Silvestri struggled through the 1970s as a guitarist and arranger while providing music for a handful of low-budget films. In 1978, on the verge of quitting music for “a real job,” he caught a break scoring the second-season premiere of the TV show CHiPs, leading to a steady gig for the program’s remaining five seasons. He then scored the 1984 feature Romancing the Stone, directed by Robert Zemeckis—and has written music for all of Zemeckis’ films since, including Back to the Future and its sequels, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, A Christmas Carol and Flight.
Zemeckis’ The Polar Express (2004) pioneered the use of motion-capture technology, with Tom Hanks playing multiple roles in an adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s beloved 1985 children’s book. A boy who doubts the the existence of Santa boards a magical train on a journey to the North Pole, making friends with other children along the way. “It’s an adventure film,” Silvestri told Variety. “It’s the story of a boy in search of his sense of belief. It happens to take place in the Christmas environment, but it could have been in a desert or in outer space. It’s a boy trying to find what he believes in, and his inner strength comes from that.”
Silvestri worked on the film for more than two years, as it featured several original songs (with lyrics by Glen Ballard) woven into the story. For the Polar Express soundtrack CD, he arranged four of these into an instrumental suite that begins with “Believe,” heard instrumentally throughout the score as the film’s main theme (and expanded into a Josh Groban power ballad for the end credits). “The Polar Express,” sung by children aboard the train (and in patter-song fashion by Tom Hanks during the credits), gives way to “When Christmas Comes to Town,” touchingly performed by three children in the film. The suite closes with “Spirit of the Season,” sung in the film by elves as they prepare Santa’s sleigh for its Christmas Eve journey.
“There isn’t a chorus in the business better schooled for the caroling season than this one,” wrote Billboard about the Robert Shaw Chorale and its 1963 RCA LP The Many Moods of Christmas, dubbing the album “strong holiday wax.” Shaw (long the dean of American choral conductors) teamed with composer and arranger Robert Russell Bennett (brilliant orchestrator of more than 300 Broadway musicals) to create four “cantatas” based on Christmas songs. Shaw selected the carols and devised the overall framework, while Bennett created the orchestral accompaniment. “It was [Bennett’s] later claim,” Shaw remarked in 1997, “that I had so ‘laid out’ the vocal arrangements that all he had to do was ‘put in the notes.’ But this was simply not true. These arrangements were 90% Robert Russell.” The fourth suite from the LP opens with a chorale that many OSSCS concertgoers will recognize from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
To close this concert, we invite you to lift your voices with the Seattle Chamber Singers in a medley of carols by John Finnegan, a member of the Harvard class of 1947, who followed in the footsteps of Leroy Anderson as an arranger for the Harvard Band.