The Quad City Symphony Orchestra and Festival of Trees Holiday Pops Concert on November 23 was not a concert for orchestral-music purists, but it is an integral part of the symphony season and essential for increasing the local symphonic- and classical-music base.
Despite the stress of finding a parking spot, and running up the never-ending stairs at The Mark, once I settled into my seat, like everyone else I was overwhelmed with holiday good will.
Conductor Michael Butterman made a return appearance to the podium. Assisted by the First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir, the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet, and of course the children’s choir, Butterman demonstrated his proficiency with the pops style, captivating the audience with sublime seasonal music.
Butterman balanced a program of Christian-themed favorites, a Hanukah suite, and of course secular tunes such as “Jingle Bells” in a way that surely appealed to everyone without alienating anyone.
The sanctuary choir exceeded expectations with angelic singing. The choir did so well that I was left wondering why the symphony limits itself to using only the Handel Oratorio Society for works involving a chorus.
Unfortunately, the small force of the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet was ill-suited to the cavernous Mark. Even with speaker assistance, the deft strumming and plucking was muddled and incoherent. Before the intermission, the quartet’s attempt at Copland was barely recognizable, mainly because of acoustics.
Even though the performances were commendable, what makes the pops concert a unique and welcome addition to the Quad Cities music scene is the synthesis between the visual and aural. Figure skaters perform to the music, and a giant overhead screen displayed close-ups of the orchestra, choir, and guitar quartet.
Yet even with this synthesis, more could be done to incorporate less traditional holiday-pops fare and include more “serious” holiday compositions. What is preventing the Quad City Symphony and Butterman from playing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols or Fry’s Santa Claus Symphony? Adding one or two “serious” pieces would help evangelize traditional classical music while at the same time filling an eager audience yearning for holiday music.
The Holiday Pops concert has its place, attempting to bridge the classical with the contemporary. It reminds people of the holiday season, easing their spirits, and hopefully elevates the cause of the symphony and its thoroughly enjoyable classical subscription series. In the process, you have purists like me sitting side-by-side with first-time attendees and children who have no exposure to orchestral music. We need the holiday concert to not only put us in the spirit but to also promote classical music in the area.