sota-2012-2013FORT LAUDERDALE, FL -- The Symphony of the Americas presented a joyous holiday celebration Tuesday night. With the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater decked out in Christmas wreaths and lights, the ambience was festive and the music even more so. The five member Symphony of the Americas Brass Ensemble were the stars of the evening. Trumpeters Claudio Osorio and Veselin Bozhilov were joined by colleagues Eric Kerley (French horn), Gilberto Cruz (trombone) and Calvin Jenkins (tuba). These terrific players formed a crack brass quintet. From the first pealing, finely burnished strains of the Bells of Christmas Suite (featuring Carol of the Bells, Jingle Bells and Ding Dong, Merrily on High), it was immediately obvious that these players are first class musicians with both remarkable command of their instruments and real musicality and flair.

Their brilliant solo turn, without orchestral backing, on Bill Holcombe's arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was infused with wit and showmanship. Dick Meyer's wonderfully inventive medley of Christmas pop tunes traversed Mel Torme's Christmas Song (with its visions of chestnuts roasting on an open fire), a bright, swinging version of Winter Wonderland, the Hollywood Christmas classic Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the eternal Jingle Bells.

With the full orchestra under the stalwart direction of artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese, the brass virtuosos excelled in a Hanukkah Medley, James M. Stephenson's chart replete with touches of klezmer and jazz. Luther Henderson was one of the great big band arrangers and produced many transcriptions for the legendary Canadian Brass. Calvin Custer's adaptation of Henderson's A Canadian Brass Christmas brought such wonderful holiday fare as the 17th century Huron Carol, I Saw Three Ships and the delightful English carol Here We Go a Wassailing, a portent of good tidings and health for the New Year. Bruzzese's deftly paced conducting, the orchestra's luminous ensemble playing and the dazzling, turn on a dime brass masters made Henderson's wonderful concoction one of the real highlights of the evening. A vibrant Stephenson version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen brought some of the richest brass sonorities from the players.

Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra offered two scores from the classic American composer-arranger Leroy Anderson. As staff orchestrator for the Boston Pops in the 1950's, Anderson helped to create that ensemble's unique sound in its heyday under Arthur Fiedler and he also wrote many popular vignettes for the orchestra. His Sleigh Ride has become a Christmas perennial. Brooks-Bruzzese brought spirit and élan to this evergreen and the orchestra's smooth as silk performance recalled the cherished Boston sound of yesteryear. Anderson's A Christmas Festival remains a staple to this day at the Boston Pops' annual holiday concerts. From the rousing opening traversal of Deck the Halls, the score is a panoply of beloved carols and holiday tunes dressed up in opulent orchestral garb, concluding with a full throated orchestral chorale of O Come All Ye Faithful. Anderson's tribute to the Christmas spirit captured the Symphony of the Americas at its considerable best.

Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland was once as much a Christmas perennial as Handel's Messiah, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and the classic films It's a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St. Louis and Miracle on 34th Street. Herbert's score is wonderfully rich in melody and invention. This work definitely deserves revival. Brooks-Bruzzese led the zippy March of the Toys with brio and idiomatic style and Herbert's music remains as irrisistible as ever. The conductor chose the Snow Scene from The Nutcracker. Over harp glissandos, one of Tchaikovsky's most spacious, noble melodies unfolded with unhurried eloquence.

Composer in residence EduardoMagallanes' sizzling chart for Jose Feliciano's Feliz Navidad was accompanied by the appearance of Santa and Mrs. Claus, bringing their own good cheer to the proceedings, Brooks-Bruzzese turning up the heat in a rollicking version of Feliciano's contemporary holiday classic. With brass quintet and audience joining in, the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah brought the evening to a festive conclusion.

On January 22, 2013 at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater, James Brooks-Bruzzese conducts the Symphony of the Americas in Herold's Zampa Overture and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Violin Concerto with soloist Roberto Cani. For information 954-335-7002 www.SymphonyoftheAmericas.org.

 


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