David Williams couldn’t review the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Home for the Holidays” show at the Clay Center Saturday night.
The Gazette-Mail’s longtime and wildly reliable symphony and chamber music reviewer is also a conductor and composer. One of his compositions, “December,” was being performed by the state symphony — no small honor for Williams, but he had to bow out.
So, the paper sent me in his place — no small amount of pressure.
Lucky for all of us, this year’s “Home for the Holidays” was another sweet delight full of crowd-pleasing performance of old familiar chestnuts, freshly arranged, polished to a shine and made to sparkle, as well as a couple of new songs.
This was a show that might have not happened if schedules had worked out.
Last year was thought to be the retiring conductor’s last turn in the elf shoes for the show he initiated almost 20 years ago. The incoming conductor would probably take over.
Cooper had programed the show as his send-off, as his finale, but here he was again.
What do you do when you’ve done all the things you wanted to do?
You get creative.
“Home for the Holidays” shows tend to be looser, more relaxed performances. The symphony gets to let down its hair a bit and with the Symphony Chorus, the Parkersburg Symphony Chorus and the West Virginia State University Choir lending their voices, it feels more like a community celebration than an ambitious classical concert.
Saturday night’s “Home for the Holidays” seemed breezier, more celebratory than usual and a little wild, with conductor emeritus Cooper more animated than I ever recall even at a holiday show.
He seemed to be having a ball.
This show was heavy on music by local talent.
Included in the newly arranged material were three songs by Charleston native and West Virginia Public Broadcasting classical music host, Matt Jackfert.
Jackfert arranged music for “I Saw Three Ships,” “We Three Kings,” and “O Holy Night.” My preferences were for the first two. “I Saw Three Ships” was an exciting take on what I’ve always considered a fairly hokey and consistently forgettable Christmas tune.
His version of “We Three Kings” conjured up sweeping images of the desert with a building excitement as the kings reach their destination.
Among the new works was the piece by Williams, which seemed to capture the mix of moods of the season — some joy, some anxiety.
Cooper said Williams didn’t want to label “December” as a holiday song, but holiday music was referenced several times in the composition. It seemed to fit in very well with the rest of the program.
The conductor emeritus also brought out his own “Goldilocks and the Three Elves,” a fun reworking of the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” that relied heavily on audience participation.
This might have been the high point of the evening. The piece took Cooper off the podium, where he narrated the story and conducted the audience, while Bob Turizziani stepped in to conduct the musicians.
“Home for the Holidays” was, once again, a success and a warm welcome to the holiday season ahead.