Sounds of the Season

The Symphony of the Americas' Sounds of the Season concert at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater on Tuesday night was one big holiday party, replete with musical good cheer spanning classical ballet, folk music, Broadway and Hollywood and traditional Christmas favorites. Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra were in great form, delighting an audience that braved rainy weather for an evening of sheer musical joy.

Excerpts from Tchaikovsky's indestructible ballet The Nutcracker proved a delightful opener. The Overture was light and transparent, the string lines clear and well etched. Brooks-Bruzzese led the Journey Through the Snow at a broad, spacious tempo, bringing out the beauty and eloquence of one of Tchaikovsky's most memorable melodies. The Russian Dance was appropriately crisp and high stepping, the strings' precision and polish terrific. In the introduction to Waltz of the Flowers, the harp glissandos were spot on and the lush, rich orchestral sonority brought sparkle and lift to this classic waltz. The selections were enhanced by projections of scenes from the ballet. Indeed throughout the concert, the projections on a screen behind the orchestra perfectly complemented the musical selections.

Ralph Vaughan Williams' English Folk Song Suite is a delightful series of tunes the composer collected during musicological research in rural British communities during the early 20th century. The toe tapping opening movement was filled with vigor aplenty while a contrasting second subject was more stately. A photo of a coastal scene supplied a fine backdrop for the dark, lustrous string melody of the second movement, concertmaster Bogdan Chruzcz's sweet toned solo a standout. The finale, based on several Songs from Summerfest, was jaunty and bright. Superb orchestral playing and fine detailing brought clarity and brio to Gordon Jacob's vibrant orchestration of Vaughan Williams' original setting for wind ensemble.

Gustav Holst is best known as the composer of the orchestral tone poem The Planets but he wrote many instrumental and choral pieces. Douglass E. Wagner's arrangement of three Holst Christmas selections received glistening renditions - particularly In the Bleak Midwinter - with a winter snow scene projection providing atmosphere. Jack Bullock's Joyful Holidays brought great holiday favorites in elaborate orchestrations, culminating in a large scale version of Silent Night including Wagnerian brass. A touch of swing swirled through Calvin Custer's version of Winter Wonderland, concluding the program's first half on a charming note.

The same song opened Robert Sheldon's A Most Wonderful Christmas, launching the post intermission part of the concert with a cornucopia of Christmas favorites. Finely sculpted horn and trumpet solos gave appropriate sentimentality to I'll Be Home for Christmas and a trombone solo infused Santa Claus is Coming to Town with whimsy. Chruzcz's violin solo on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas added schmaltz to the collection of sweets with Jingle Bells and The Most Wonderful Time of the Year forming a spiffy finale.

Jack Higgins' Christmas on Broadway medley mixed a vibrant traversal of Victor Herbert's Toyland (from Babes in Toyland) with an lively arrangement of My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music) and a rousing setting of We Need a Little Christmas (from Mame) by Miami native Jerry Herman. Alan Silvestri's joyous and stirring God Bless Us One and All from the Disney extravaganza A Christmas Carol closed the selection in moving fashion. Brooks-Bruzzese conducted these Great American Songbook numbers in idiomatic and exuberant fashion.

Bob Krogstad's Christmas at the Movies offered a more fantastic take on the holiday, excerpts from Miracle on 34th Street contrasting with the more vigorous and ironic selections from Home Alone and Danny Elfman’s creepy score for The Nightmare Before Christmas. The orchestra's winds, brass and percussion had a field day with the curving melodic lines and rhythms of this hugely entertaining arrangement.

Johann Strauss' waltz Roses from the South was dedicated to longtime Symphony of the Americas supporter Rose Miniaci. With a photo of a Viennese ballroom setting the mood, Brooks-Bruzzese brought real Viennese lilt and just the right hesitations in the three quarter time melodic lines. The orchestra played with the stylistic verve of a Viennese ensemble, the strings' glistening sound just perfect for this candied confection.

Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride zipped along at a brisk pace, Brooks-Bruzzese drawing out the charming instrumental effects of imitative horse hoofs and the final yelp. Eduardo Magallanes' swinging arrangement of the Jose Feliciano classic Feliz Navidad was assayed with real Latin flair. With the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree as background, John Kander and Fred Ebb's New York, New York had plenty of rhythmic pulse, enhanced by rich strings and mellow brass. As an encore, Brooks-Bruzzese launched into a John Phillip Sousa march like version of Jingle Bells, Santa and Mrs. Claus making a guest appearance with one of their assistants. The entire evening was a fun filled experience, fusing high art and holiday traditions.

The Symphony of the Americas repeats Sounds of the Season 2 p.m. Sunday at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater. 954-335-7002 www.SymphonyoftheAmericas.org

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