Maybe it was the jazz drummer’s trap set nestled in front of the conductor’s podium, or perhaps the presence of the two most ethereal-sounding musical instruments: the celeste (literally: “heavenly,” from the French) and concert harp.
Then there were the effervescent, bracing voices of the children’s chorus — all added to the unmistakable ambiance of what was a remarkable rehearsal for the Temple Symphony Orchestra.
The ensemble is celebrating its 20th birthday this season, and musical director, founder and conductor Tom Fairlie has reason to be proud. “This is a unique concert for us,” he said backstage as his musicians warmed up Tuesday night. “It’s a big day.”
And Fairlie has combined enough separate musical elements to ensure that audience members won’t have a chance to be bored. With a program that starts with two versions of Tchaikovsky, the perennial Suite No. 1 from the “Nutcracker” ballet followed by “Nutcracker Rock,” an arrangement penned by guest artist, pianist Rich Ridenour, and finishes with an audience sing-along, concert-goers should be pleased, Fairlie said.
“Rich Ridenour is a world-renown pianist,” Fairlie said. “Now Rich is not the kind of classical pianist that most expect to hear when you come to a concert — all of his selections are pop arrangements of Christmas favorites.” The concert features a good half-dozen of Ridenour’s arrangements, including tunes by Billy Joel and Richard Carpenter.
Traditional orchestral music composed by American Leroy Anderson is also programmed: his evergreen “Sleigh Ride” and “Christmas Festival.” Jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, best known to the public for his scoring of the “Peanuts” television shows, is represented in a medley arranged by Ridenour. The drummer gently applied his brushes, local jazz pianist Ben Irom played the Steinway grand, and the girls and boys from Temple College Academie Musique, a group called Jubilate Children’s Choir sang on the apron of the stage.
Still to come was the soprano voice of Temple’s Priscilla Santana, soloist on the 1970 Carpenter hit “Merry Christmas Darling.” Santana was hovering about the children, offering tips and encouragement — only natural, since she’s the director of the Jubilate choir. The audience sing-along, the finale for Saturday’s concert, will have lyrics printed in the program.
When harpist Kela Walton played her cadenza in “Nutcracker,” even normally blase orchestra musicians were seen to smile. And with Irom at the keyboard of the diminutive celeste faultlessly performing his solo, the rehearsal hinted at the musical richness of Saturday’s concert. Fairlie has performed a bit of magic himself, forging this group into a potent, vital musical organization; sections are full and well balanced.
After praising and encouraging the chorus, Fairlie laid down his conductor’s baton and gave his take: “We’re really excited. It’s going to be a fun concert.”