If you’re looking for a solemn Christmas affair, the upcoming Mobile Symphony Orchestra concert at the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.) might not do. The Dec. 10 and 11 show is primed to heighten holiday spirits.
“This promises to be very high-energy stuff going on. This is not an old-timey Christmas,” MSO General Manager J. C. Barker said.
More than the expected array of Handel, Tchaikovsky or Bach, MSO will run a gamut influenced by 20th century American sounds as much as Europe. That’s courtesy of special guests the Boston Brass.
The quintet — two trumpets, French horn, trombone and tuba — bring a flair for swinging jazz rhythms and classical expertise to the Saenger stage. They also have a flair for showmanship.
“The guys are very entertaining. They talk, they visit, they laugh and tell jokes. They have a real good time,” Barker said.
Barker stumbled upon the Boston Brass at a 2004 Michigan festival. When he heard about their recent appearance at an Alabama Music Educators Association event, he drove to Montgomery.
“I went to see if they would be interested in a Christmas show with an orchestra. We met in a hotel bar in Montgomery and figured it all out and made the plans and I got them contracted,” Barker said.
He said it was the first time he was aware of the Boston Brass performing their signature Christmas show with a full orchestra. He thought it deserved another first, so Barker got on the horn to Baton Rouge.
The introductory number was especially commissioned for the event and composed by LSU jazz studies professor Bill Grimes. Entitled “A Christmas Fantasy,” it involves the entire orchestra and is intended as an entrance for the quintet.
Boston Brass will play the next three swinging numbers by themselves, accompanied by their own drummer. They follow with the full orchestra for two pieces before intermission.
After the break, the brass combo will form an expanded group with MSO’s brass principals and section players to perform from charts by big band leader Stan Kenton. The pianist and composer was renowned for his “wall of brass” sound featuring unusually large bands.
They follow with a couple more full orchestra numbers. Barker wouldn’t reveal what’s up their sleeve for encores but was enthused.
Now in their 30th year, the Boston Brass’ website boasts they’ve played in 49 states and 30 countries with master classes, sessions and residencies at the Eastman School of Music, Juilliard, Peabody Conservatory, Royal Academy of Music in London, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory at the National University of Singapore and Mahidol University in Bangkok. They’ve also been featured on “The CBS Early Show” and NPR’s “Radio Performance Today.”
There will be a change at the podium for this show as MSO Music Director Scott Speck will be at a special Joffrey Ballet premiere. Lifting the baton in his absence will be Maestra Teresa Cheung.
“She was here a few years ago and conducted a masterworks concert with us. We really liked her and brought her back last Christmas and she did a fantastic job so we asked her back again,” Baker said.
Aside from her usual gig as music director and conductor for the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, Cheung is no stranger to travel. Guest conducting appearances have led her to the American Symphony Orchestra, the Bard Symphony Festival, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, the Nashville Symphony, the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony and the Stamford Symphony.
“She’s very down to earth, loves the orchestra and they love her,” Barker said.
As a bit of holiday outreach, MSO will take the show to Monroeville on Friday night, Dec. 9, to perform in Nettles Auditorium at Alabama Southern Community College. It’s back to Mobile when that’s done.
The Saenger’s Saturday concert is at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased by phone at 251-432-2010 or online at mobilesymphony.org. They’re also available at the MSO box office at 257 Dauphin St.
MSO is joining sponsors Wind Creek Casino and Hotel and WKRG-TV in supporting the Great Toy Drive and Toys for Tots. Concertgoers are encouraged to drop off a new, unwrapped toy at the concert.
“Christmas is in some ways kind of a difficult thing to program because there’s so much wonderful church music everywhere that’s very high-quality stuff, but we want to kind of shake it up a little bit. This is certainly an upbeat Christmas show,” Barker said.
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