Ben Gulley. Photo: Opera Musica
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Louisville Orchestra: Holiday Pops
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Ben Gulley, tenor
Louisville Youth Choir, Terri E. Foster, chorus master
By Shaun Kenney
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Shaun Kenney. All rights reserved
Whether you like it or not (and I do like it), it’s that time of year again! Thanksgiving has passed and the leftovers are almost gone, Amazon wish lists have been perfected and sent, and 106.9 is playing its 24-hour stream of Christmas music. The holiday season is in the air and I couldn’t be more excited to start it off with the Louisville Orchestra Holiday Pops concert. This is my second year in attendance and I’m glad to say that it has now become part of our yearly tradition.
One of my favorite aspects of this concert is the wide variety of people it draws. Both the lobby and the performance hall were filled with folks of all ages, colors, and attires, all of us brought together by a common love for the holidays and holiday music. The evening opened, as it did last year, with an instrumental medley of Christmas tunes arranged by Leroy Anderson. Christmas Festival is the perfect piece to put you in the holiday spirit. Its melodies are recognizable and festive and each section of the orchestra is given a chance to shine. There were several instrumental arrangements in the program and all of them were spectacular. Hanukkah Festival Overture by Lucas Richman is a lively work featuring traditional tunes to mark the Jewish holiday, Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is a must-have in any holiday program, and Alan Silvestri’s Suite from The Polar Express literally made me misty-eyed. There was a surprise visit from some toy soldier tap dancers from That’s Dancing Dance Studio during “Trepak”, a selection from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and the harp solo at the beginning of “Waltz of the Flowers” from the same ballet was exceptional. Besides deftly leading the orchestra, conductor Bob Bernhardt also puts on a wonderful performance himself, peppering the evening with jokes and puns, bringing Santa out on the stage, and creating a relaxed atmosphere so that everyone can sit back and enjoy the show.
The Louisville Youth Choir was once again part of the festivities and their presence is a present to all in the audience. There is just something about a youth choir that screams Christmas to me. Their enthusiasm for music is palpable and infectious and their sound blends beautifully with the orchestra. The best example of this was an arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” which has a melody perfectly suited for young voices. The selection that touched me the most was John Williams’ “Somewhere in My Memory” from Home Alone. I have a personal penchant for Williams’ music and this song in particular always brings a lump to my throat. The clear, crisp voices highlight the innocence and magic of the lyrics perfectly.
Tenor Ben Gulley has a stage presence that can’t be ignored and a voice to match. His version of “Let it Snow!” was remarkable; especially the ending, and his rendition of “O Holy Night” brought the audience to its feet. Gulley has a vast resume featuring roles in opera, concert work, film work, and a 70 city solo national tour. Louisville was lucky to have him featured in this year’s holiday pops lineup.
I think that conductor Bernhardt put it best when he said that this orchestra could do, “everything from Mahler to Sleigh Ride” as well as “everything in between.” What a wonderful way to spend an evening and kick off the holiday season!
November 30, 2019
Whitney Hall, Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Shaun Kenney studied Music Education and Instrumental at Campbellsville University. In Louisville, he has worked with Finnigan Productions since its inception, as Stage Manager, Sound Designer, and Director.