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Orchestra takes a whirlwind Christmas trip around the world

December 4, 2018

Pick a country where you’d like to go for Christmas and the Rochester Symphony Orchestra is ready to take you there — musically, of course.

“That’s exactly it,” said Jere Lantz, orchestra director. “We decided to take off on a world holiday just to show how universal the celebration is at this time of year.”

So, audiences attending the orchestra’s “Sounds of the Season” concerts Saturday and Sunday will hear selections, both traditional and unfamiliar, from France, Russia, England, the Ukraine, Denmark, the U.S., and even the West Indies.

One of the first carols in the concert is “Good King Wencelas,” which, Lantz noted, is based on a Swedish melody from Finland, with lyrics in English about a legendary Bohemian king. You can’t get more multi-national that that.

The melody for ‘Wencelas’ as well as for the concert-opening “Unto Us is Born a Song,” comes from the “Piae Cantiones,” published in 1582, which collected tunes from Swedish-governed Finland.

The publication was rediscovered 300 years later, at which time there was a mania to develop more Christmas carols.

“After the 1840s and the publication of ‘A Christmas Carol,’” Lantz said, “there was a huge rush to get more things to use as holiday music.” So, melodies from “Piae Cantiones,” and other sources, were adapted by English composers.

In all, the concert features 19 pieces of music, including audience sing-alongs. Plus, the orchestra’s chorale, led by Patricia Anderson, will have a large role, starting with the Italian carol “Once, as I Remember” and the Catalan dance “Fum, Fum, Fum.”

One of the more interesting juxtapositions in the program is Tchaikovsky’s “The Crown of Roses,” described by Lantz as “very passionate, very gorgeous and a little heartbreaking,” followed by Prokofiev’s energetic “Troika.”

In the second half of the concert, the audience will hear “Once in Royal David’s City,” “Carol of the Bells,” “I Wonder as I Wander,” and, from the West Indies, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”

“It’s really hot and fun, with a Latin American jazz feel to it,” Lantz said of the latter piece.

Even with so many selections planned, Lantz said he necessarily left out some favorites. “There is so much holiday music, and some of it’s not very good,” he said. “There are others, though, that are wonderful.”

Wonderful, he might have added, any place in the world during the Christmas season.

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