Review: A Joyous Yuletide Celebration at the MSO

By William R. Wineke Special to Channel 3000

MADISON, Wis. — The annual Christmas Spectacular of the Madison Symphony Orchestra is always a treat, combining as it does the music of the symphony with the voices of the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Mount Zion Gospel Choir.

This year’s production was just a bit above the norm, however. The disparate facets of the evening blended just a bit more smoothly than they sometimes do, the soloists seemed just a bit more joyous, the gospel sound of Mount Zion blended into the traditional program just a bit more seamlessly.

To me, the performance by the concert organist, Samuel Hutchison, proved the point. The organ can sometimes dominate the stage and, often, is so much in the background that one wonders if Hutchison is playing.

Not so during the opening performance of ?Joy to the World? Friday night. Hutchison’s Handelian accompaniment of the traditional Christmas carol (the actual arrangement was by Mack Wilberg) complemented the chorus without overwhelming it.

Soloists Jamie-Rose Guarrine and Kyle Ketelson ? Guarrine is a UW-Madison graduate with an international reputation ? and Ketelson (he sang at Carnegie Hall this week with the American Symphony Orchestra), lives in Sun Prairie, seemed really happy to be part of the Madison scene once again. When Guarrine teamed with boy soprano Oliver Cardona, the audience roared its approval.

The Christmas program always tends to be a bit light-hearted. Bach alternates with Berlin’s ?White Christmas.? ?Hallelujah? chorus alternates with ?Sleigh Ride.? Conductor John DeMain is a bit more relaxed and a lot more talkative than he is in other concerts.

DeMain and the orchestra don Santa hats for the carol singalong, as do many of the audience members. Zorba Paster in the audience seems a natural in the hat. Hutchison at the organ doesn’t really look as if he enjoys the experience.

People always have a good time.

This year, it just seems people are having a better time than usual.

The Christmas concert will be repeated tonight and again on Sunday.