Review: Pittsburgh Pops holiday show a seasonal delight
There's no coal in the musical Christmas stocking that conductor Todd Ellison assembled for the 2013 Highmark Holiday Pops on Dec. 12.
Ellison was a pleasantly low-key host who let the music carry the show at Heinz Hall, Downtown. A noted Broadway conductor who worked with Marvin Hamlisch on his past two shows, Ellison programmed for variety. The singers and other performers changed after nearly every number.
He included wonderful arrangements of popular Christmas songs, but the less-familiar fare proved very rewarding, too. “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst was not an obvious choice, but it was one of the most memorable parts of the concert, which continues through Dec. 21.
The show features three outstanding adult vocalists. Nikki Renee Daniels, who has a beautiful voice and diction that's clear as a bell, was delightfully spirited in Richard Rodgers' “My Favorite Things.” She was even more impressive in “Christmas Morning,” a touching song written by the conductor.
Pittsburgh native Vanessa Campagna was on “Star Search” when she was 10 and made her Pops debut with Hamlisch when she was 12. She's returned at 20 with a budding career in Nashville and a new CD titled “Simply Christmas.”
Campagna sang Hamlisch's “Chanukah Lights” with impressive vocal range and more than a hint of country-music influence.
Ricky Manning, who Hamlisch dubbed “The Singing Detective,” is a sergeant with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Department. He has the pipes to sing “Danny Boy” in a deeply affecting way.
Christopher Sanders played an excellent Santa who interacted well with children in the audience. He also sang “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks” with the talented James Fedor Jr., a member of the Children's Festival Chorus.
Performances by the orchestra's principal trumpet, George Vosburgh, and Pittsburgh Symphony Brass were high points of the evening. Vosburgh played Mel Torme's “The Christmas Song” in the first half with lovely phrasing and gorgeous tone on the flugelhorn.
Pittsburgh Symphony Brass played two pieces in the second half, starting with a clean and natural version of “Ding Dong Merrily On High.” Then the sextet turned comical for the wild “A ‘Spike Jones' Jingle Bells,” in which principal horn William Caballero doubled as utility percussionist, producing a cascade of sound effects.
Orchestra members produced numerous outstanding solos during the concert, especially principal harp Gretchen Van Hoesen and principal tuba Craig Knox.
The Mendelssohn Choir performed many numbers, from the opening “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” to the concluding “Deck the Halls.” But only about half the choir was onstage, and it was amplified.
The symphony also was amplified. Although the mixing board was handled well, this is a lame way to present a world-class orchestra.
This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21, and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 15 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $21 to $99. Details: 412-320-7877 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hampton music lovers pay it forward with traveling musicians
- Orozco-Estrada to debut with Pittsburgh Symphony
- Hard Rain goes ‘Deep in the Shadows’ for new release
- 3 venues making Dormont the place to be for live music
- Perfume Genius makes sweet sounds, sometimes from sad
- Ryan’s music draws from Ireland, U.S. shores
- Decemberists look forward to warm reception at Benedum Center after break
- Super Salsa Weekend brings ‘joy’ to Pittsburgh