Music News & Reviews

Sacramento Choral brings holidays home

No matter where they go in the world, members of the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra always return home for the holidays.

In their first local concert with orchestra since performing at the Vatican, the much-traveled singers and musicians wrap up their far-flung 2013 schedule with a Christmas concert in one of their favorite venues: Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium.

Saturday, more than 250 singers and musicians will take part in a concert mixing homespun tradition with spectacle, “Wells Fargo Home for the Holidays.”

“It’s really a tradition, ushering in holiday spirit for the Sacramento community,” said SCSO conductor Donald Kendrick. “It’s an amazing production for us; all 170 singers (of the adult chorus) plus our orchestra and the Sacramento Children’s Chorus. We guarantee merriment at this concert.”

Lynn Stevens directs the children’s chorus, with singers as young as age 7. They add to the family-friendly flavor of the event.

Wells Fargo chipped in $35,000 to underwrite this concert, the biggest of its kind on the Sacramento holiday calendar, said SCSO board President James McCormick. Wells Fargo and SCSO also provided tickets for underprivileged Sacramento residents and veterans.

“Memorial Auditorium is such a venerable old building for our community,” Kendrick said. “When it opened in 1927, it was dedicated to veterans. So, something new this year, we’ll actually have many veterans attend the performance. We’re working with a number of veteran associations around town to help bring the people to the concert and let them experience Christmas with us. We’re also collecting toys for the Marines’ Toys for Tots campaign to hopefully help the community, too.”

Memorial Auditorium itself inspired a dramatic candlelit opening procession with the entire ensemble slowly moving to the center stage. The audience becomes immersed in the often-familiar music.

“The warm atmosphere created by Memorial Auditorium’s U-shaped seating plan fosters a very strong sense of community at the concert itself,” said SCSO alto Charlene Black. “For most people attending, witnessing the power of such a large chorus and orchestra and even singing along with the orchestra in the second half of the program leaves an indelible impression, one sparkling with hope and joy.”

Added Kendrick: “One reason I really love Memorial Auditorium is that it wraps around you like a warm blanket. You can see the whole audience standing up, often holding small children. There’s a warm glow to the hall; you can feel it. It’s so refreshing. Every year, I get choked up. (In the singalong) the audience feels like part of the chorus, too. It’s really touching.”

Kendrick chose a mix of modern and traditional arrangements, something to keep his musicians interested while pleasing the devoted audience. Tenor Tevye Ditter serves as the evening’s soloist and also will narrate “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

This concert puts an exclamation point on the end of an exciting year for the SCSO, Kendrick said. The ensemble recently released its “Home for the Holidays” CD (which will be available at Saturday’s concert). During the summer, the chorus toured Italy, singing at some of its most famous cathedrals.

“We took with us music from the 16th century and earlier and had the opportunity to sing this music in churches that date back even older.” Kendrick said. “The acoustics were unbelievable and the music so fulfilling.”

Some moments were once-in-a-lifetime. At one ancient Italian church, the chorus used a basement crypt as a changing room.

“We looked around and there were 12th century tombstones and marble altars,” Kendrick said. “We had 14th century dust on our shoes. But then we ascended (into the church) and found an audience from around the world; we heard seven different languages. They were waiting to hear our chorus from Sacramento sing. It was quite remarkable.”

But the highlight was a special performance at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

“Walking into St. Peter’s takes your breath away,” Kendrick added. “You look up and see these huge beams of light glowing through the windows of St. Peter’s. We felt like ants. It was a life-changing, unbelievable experience.”