WIO concert is a little naughty and a whole lotta nice

— Created December 14, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Whidbey Island Orchestra is offering two chances this weekend to enjoy its holiday program, Naughty or Nice.

Its first performance will be at Island Church in Langley at 7 p.m. Friday, and the second opportunity will be Sunday at 3 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland. All performances are free, although donations are greatly appreciated, according to conductor and executive director, Cynthia Morrow.

As its name implies, there is a good amount of “nice” in this holiday program, with a little bit of “naughty” thrown in for some added fun. It’s a lineup Morrow feels will please audiences.

“Although ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ is rather naughty and fun, just about everything else – except for some drunken trumpeters showing up in the Viennese waltzes – is rather nice,” she said. “We have a wide range of pieces, both sacred and secular, some European carols from the more distant past that everyone knows and loves, and popular contemporary pieces like ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Sleigh Ride.’

“We’ve also included a really wonderful Hannukah medley to make it a more inclusive concert,” Morrow continued. “As it happens, the first night of Hannukah this year begins at sundown after our last concert on Sunday, so there’s a nice synchronicity to this.”

Morrow said the orchestra decided this would also be a good year to do some things that speak to the true meaning of Christmas, while exploring selections somewhat outside the classical repertoire.

“These would be ‘O Holy Night,’ which was written about the birth of Christ by an atheist lyricist and a Jewish composer,” she explained. “[Also] Bach’s ‘Arioso,’ which is one of Bach’s most joyous and uplifting melodies and Bach’s A Minor Violin Concerto 2nd Movement, which we have aligned with the Christmas story from Luke 2:26 and the visitation of the angel and the Heavenly Host to the shepherds as a sign of peace and goodwill to all mankind.”

An event meant to include the entire holiday season, Whidbey Island Orchestra will also perform “The Gold and Silver Waltz,” by Franz Lehar, to ring in the New Year as it’s done every year by the Vienna Philharmonic.

“It has been made newly possible this year because we have a full orchestra back, something which is required for this piece,” Morrow explained. “Not only does this set of waltzes include beautiful dance melodies that take us back to the days of La Belle Epoch and the shimmering balls of the 19th century, but there is a rowdy chorus of drunken revelers that pops up now and again (represented by the brass section), which gives this concert another layer of ‘naughty.’”

It has been three years since the entire Whidbey Island Orchestra has been able to perform, due to the pandemic.

“This orchestra was only able to have strings, flutes, percussion and piano for almost three years,” Morrow said. “We practiced outdoors in good weather, inside vestibules of churches and in gymnasiums, masked and spaced, vaccinated and boosted, until we felt that it was safe to add the rest of our orchestra.

“Half of the repertoire in this concert is performed by the full orchestra, interspersed with string orchestra arrangements,” she continued. “We were thrilled to be able to invite our brass and woodwinds to return, and even more delighted to have so many fine players back in their chairs for this concert. This will be the first concert with everyone playing together since we performed a Christmas Concert at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in December of 2019.”

That’s not to say Whidbey Island Orchestra hasn’t performed. It has put on several successful concerts – even via video – with just a partial group of musicians. The focus on strings in particular has proven beneficial, according to Morrow.

“This enabled our strings to develop a rich, beautiful sound, but we missed the variety and colors that the other sections bring to any concert,” she said. “Having full brass and woodwinds means that we can do ‘bigger’ pieces, that we can do some jazz and some rollicking, fun stuff that just comes to life with a bunch of trumpets and French horns and clarinets and bassoons and trombones.

“Before the pandemic we used to open every Christmas Concert with a piece called ‘Tidings of Comfort and Joy’ and close with ‘Sleigh Ride,’ complete with the trumpet neighing the final horse solo,” Morrow continued. “I’m happy to say this year we are finally doing these pieces once more in their rightful placement.”

The upcoming performances will feature some solos and special guest conductors as well. Steve Tarr will do a trombone solo in “I’ll be Home for Christmas;” other soloists include Josephine Chia, a junior at South Whidbey High School and a viola player; Clyde Wilson, a retired physician who plays principal cello; and WIO concertmaster since 2015, Brian Kenney. This will be Kenney’s last concert with WIO, because he has accepted a position as the new farm manager for the South Whidbey School Farms.

There are two guest conductors who will each lead one of the pieces during the weekend performances. The spots were auctioned off at a summer fundraiser. Wyatt Sylvester, a student at Coupeville High School will conduct “Winter Wonderland” on Friday and Kathy Haber will take up the baton at Sunday’s concert.

“There’s a definite thrill to standing up in front of a live orchestra and realizing that everyone is following your baton and creating music in that moment,” said Morrow.

Learn more about Whidbey Island Orchestra and other upcoming performances online at whidbeyorchestras.org.