The New York Pops, led by Steven Reineke, continued their 34th season at Carnegie Hall with the annual holiday concert, billed as “Make the Season Bright” and fulfilled the title’s promise with a gala celebration of Christmas and Chanukah, with songs sung by some illustrious guest soloists—siblings Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Calloway and the Nunziata twins, Anthony and Will—with the Essential Voices USA choral ensemble, guided by Judith Clurman.
Essential Voices USA welcomed us to Carnegie with a lilting “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” by Edward Pola and George Wyle, in Reineke’s arrangement. The full company—the Callaways, Nunziatas, Essential Voices, and the Pops—gave us an idea of how uplifting an evening we were in for by collaborating on a mellifluous “Silver Bells,” by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, as arranged by Reineke and Chris Byars.
Solos, which followed, were Ann Hampton Callaway’s “Winter Wonderland,” by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith, evoking the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald with the jazzy arrangement, by Tim Berens, that the earlier legend had used; Will Nunziata’s warm, lyric “Christmas Song,” of Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, in James Stephenson’s edition; Anthony Nunziata’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” by Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, and Buck Ram, in Reineke’s version, mined for the pathos of being miles away from family at Yuletide; and Liz Callaway, the singing voice of Russian Princess Anya in Disney’s “Anastasia,” treating us to a pairing of her favorites from the film, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ “Once Upon a December” and “Journey to the Past,” as arranged by Jack Everly.
Essential Voices USA and Chanukah took center stage with a fervent account of Stephen Schwartz and Steven Young’s contemporary Chanukah Song, “We Are Lights,” in Ryan Nowlin’s edition, conducted by Clurman, and a formidable traditional “Maoz Tsur” (“Rock of My Salvation”), in English and Hebrew, in Larry Hochman, Clurman, and Brian Stokes Mitchell’s arrangement, under Reineke’s baton. The full company reassembled for a hot, hand-clapping, rafter-ringing “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” in Reineke’s version, with the singers taking turns singing solos and backup or harmonizing as a quartet.
Essential Voices USA took us to Broadway with a joyous “We Need a Little Christmas,” by Jerry Herman, from “Mame,” with interpolated snippets of “Jingle Bells,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” and “Deck the Halls,” per arranger Robert Wendell. Liz Callaway shared a wistful “Grown-Up Christmas List”—“That wars would never start … And right would always win”—in Richard Rockage’s edition of David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner’s song, and sweetly harmonized with sister Ann in a pairing of Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr’s “Silent Night” and Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry’s “Mary, Did You Know?,” gently rocking in Joel A. Martin’s arrangement, with expanded orchestration by Reineke. Ann’s solo was a charming, childlike “Yes, Virginia (there is a Santa Claus),” William Schermerhorn and Wesley Whatley’s Emmy Award-winning song, in Reineke’s edition.
The spotlight shone on the Pops in Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” the opening banjo strumming setting the tone for Reineke’s Dixieland band-style take, which could have come from New Orleans.
The Nunziata brothers celebrated their debuts in “this hallowed place” and making their father proud, in John Bucchino and Michael Feinstein’s “Carnegie Hall,” and in their own anthem, written with Jeff Franzel, “The Gift Is You,” employing Essential Voices USA pianist Tedd Firth’s orchestrations.
Accompanied by his elf, Santa Claus came to the stage and took up the baton to conduct “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas,” “Jingle Bells,” and “It Came upon a Midnight Clear.” The Callaways, the Nunziatas, and Essential Voices USA blended voices in a winning medley of Irving Berlin’s songs for the film “White Christmas”—“Happy Holiday,” “Snow,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Sisters” sung, naturally, by the Callaway sisters, “Count Your Blessings” and, of course, “White Christmas” itself, all arranged by Fred Barton and Everly. The singers, Clurman, and Santa paced us in Reineke’s “Jingle Jangle Sing-Along,” comprising “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” and “Jingle Bells,” and the evening ended with the company’s “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
The Pops’ season at Carnegie continues with “Life Is a Cabaret: the Songs of Kander and Ebb,” with Joshua Henry and Caissie Levy, on March 10, 2017; “You’ve Got a Friend: a Celebration of Singers and Songwriters,” with Jonathan Gross and Adrienne Warren singing songs of Carole King, James Taylor, and others, on April 21; and the 34th Birthday Gala, honoring Kelli O’Hara and Bartlett Sher, on May 1. Visit www.newyorkpops.org
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