Music for the holiday

2011-12-01T18:15:00Z Music for the holidayBy Mike McInally, The Entertainer Corvallis Gazette Times
December 01, 2011 6:15 pm  • 

CORVALLIS — The Corvallis-OSU Symphony, with some help from Oregon State University’s choirs, are serving up a buffet of music this weekend, complete with some meaty main courses and plenty of lighter treats in the form of holiday favorites.

The annual “Holiday Celebration” festivity gets under way at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus.

Two works provide the main courses: One of them is Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” featuring the OSU Chamber Choir and a critically praised boy soprano from Portland, Michael Kepler Meo.

Steven Zielke, the conductor of OSU’s Chamber Choir and OSU’s director of choral studies, said the appeal of the piece is just getting a chance to perform a work that Bernstein wrote for choir.

Bernstein, Zielke said, probably rates as “the Mozart of America,” and lamented that his time to write music was necessarily limited by his many other activities — conducting, performing, lecturing and generally being the face of classical music to generations of Americans.

“If he had done nothing but composing, we would have been better off,” Zielke said, in terms of the legacy Bernstein left behind.

The music in “Chichester Psalms” originally was intended for a never-completed musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play “The Skin of Our Teeth.” In addition, Zielke noted, some material in the “Psalms” was recycled from earlier versions of “West Side Story,” so it’s no surprise that the music has “a little bit of a musical theater feel to it.“

The text is taken from a variety of Psalms from the Bible. The second movement, based largely on Psalm 23, features the part for the boy soprano — and Bernstein insisted that the part always be sung by a male, either a boy soprano or a countertenor, perhaps to underline the idea that the Psalm — one of the most famous songs of David — is being sung by the young David himself.

The piece also is noted for its difficulty — a challenge Zielke relishes. “It’s a hard piece to sing,” he said.

The other main course on the menu Sunday night is a performance of Bach’s Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe, featuring a pair of orchestra mainstays — Jessica Lambert on violin and Fred Korman on oboe.

Following intermission, Bella Voce, the OSU Meistersingers, and OSU brass students will join forces to perform “Christmas Cantata,” American composer Daniel Pinkham’s most famous choral work, composed in 1957.

The combined university choirs then will join together to perform “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” by Howard Helvey, and “First Nowell,” by Mack Wilberg, and then will invite audience participation to finish out the concert with John Finnegan’s medley of carols, “Christmas Singalong,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.”

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