With gusto and exuberant spirit sparkling through the entire evening, the Conway Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Israel Getzov, gave us a Christmas gift full of fun, boisterous music and plenty of humor.
Guest collaborators at Saturday night’s "Tinsel and Tutus" were Rebecca Stalcup, artistic director and Melinda Tobian, ballet mistress of the Arkansas Festival Ballet; Dr. Ryan Fisher’s Central Arkansas Children’s Choir under the direction of Paige Rose and the Parkview Magnet High School Choir under the direction of Carolyn Foreman.
The orchestra began with what seems to be their "signature" opening and closing music. "A Christmas Festival" covered us from head to toe with, by turns, rousing spirit, then with variety and smooth orchestral excellence.
New music this year included "Around the World at Christmas Time," a beautiful arrangement of familiar Christmas music by Bruce Chase. Among the tunes were O Tanenbaum from Germany, What Child is This? from the British Isles, as well as French, Russian and American selections.
The pairing of the two choirs this year was impressive, especially to see the entire front of the stage filled with colorful Christmas-dressed young children and high school students.
Four percussionists, including our own Izzy on a tiny cymbal, added to the overall holiday effect.
The less familiar carol, "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Gustav Holst, which serves up an image of sadness and loneliness, was strangely transformed by the brassy, percussive, even bombastic style by the Robert W. Smith arrangement.
Fun and delight quickly returned with "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi. Happy jazzy passages, suggesting the familiar cartoon Charlie and Lucy, and prominent piano colors, perhaps evoking the Linus character, made us ready for — guess who? — the jolly guy from the North Pole himself — complete with his traveling companions. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks in an arrangement by James D. Ployhar, bringing squeals of delight from young and old.
Finally, just before intermission, the Act I Tree Decorating and Lighting of The Nutcracker Ballet by Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky brilliantly carried us to just the right mood for the second half of the program — namely the Act II Land of Sweets, the central characters of the ballet itself — Clara, her family, the Prince, and the Rat King — followed by the famous "character" dances.
The wonderful skill of choreography, acting, and dancing of the entire company was a joy to watch.
In comparison with the equivalent performance last year, I do wonder if at this point in their trajectory, a few details might be within the capacity of the ballet group?
Especially, although the layout of the stage with the orchestra taking up much space, I ask could perhaps more care be taken of precise spacing of the dancers at the front of the stage. This was an inconsistent item, but with everything else so beautifully positioned, it might lend just that iota of professionalism well within the capacity of the company. With that comment, again, as last year I was sorry not to find a single name of the well-deserving dancers in the program.
Nevertheless the utter and undiluted joy of the evening for everyone present resulted in complete pent-up enthusiasm so that nobody could any longer remain in their seats. We were swept away even before the closing music began. Congratulations to all.
Dr. Kay Kraeft of Conway is president of Songs Unlimited Inc., sponsor of the Songs Across the Americas Festivals.