Holiday sounds spark Smith Center concerts

There’s no place like home for the holidays. And for a variety of performers, from Strip veterans to Las Vegas Philharmonic musicians, “home” means The Smith Center.

From resident Cabaret Jazz headliner Clint Holmes to Donato Cabrera, the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s new music director, the upcoming concerts offer ample opportunity for performers to get into, and share, the spirit of the season.

As pianist Philip Fortenberry (who’s teaming with singer Kristen Hertzenberg at Cabaret Jazz) notes, the holiday concerts represent “a chance to remind everyone of what is magical about the season.”

An overview of the holiday sounds in store:

■ “Fa La La Las Vegas,” Las Vegas Philharmonic

For Donato Cabrera, it all started with “The Nutcracker.”

As a sixth-grader in Reno, the future Philharmonic music director attended a kid-friendly performance of the holiday ballet. He says at the end of Act I, when the Christmas tree started growing, he was transfixed.

“That was one of the magical moments — one of the moments that really got me hooked on classical music,” he says.

Appropriately, four movements from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” (including the sprightly “Russian Dance” and the lilting “Waltz of the Snowflakes”) will close the first half of “Fa La La Las Vegas,” giving musicians the chance to play “one of the greatest scores,” in Cabrera’s view.

“No matter how many times you do it,” he says, “it’s still challenging, satisfying “the eternal curiosity that artists have toward great masterworks.” (Good thing, too, because Philharmonic members will be playing the entire”Nutcracker” score during Nevada Ballet Theatre performances later this month.)

“Fa La La Las Vegas” will include composer Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival,” which Cabrera describes as “a medley of very famous, classic holiday tunes,” along with Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” — because, as Cabrera says, “what holiday pops would be complete without ‘Sleigh Ride’?”

The Las Vegas Master Singers, directed by Jocelyn Jensen, will perform several selections, including John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music,” while baritone Tod Fitzpatrick will sing both Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” and Judith Clurman’s “Songs of Freedom: A Celebration of Hanukkah.”

The concerts will climax with sing-along versions of such Yuletide tunes as “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” giving audiences the chance to share in the spirit of the season — and the orchestra, in Cabrera’s words, to “feed off the energy and excitement (of) the audience.”

■ Clint Holmes for the Holidays

Holmes returns to Cabaret Jazz for the first time since August, leading a musical get-together that puts the accent on family — literally and figuratively.

Holmes’ singing spouse, Kelly Clinton, will join the musical party — as will Holmes’ 11-year-old granddaughter, Asia McCoy, who’ll duet with her grandpa on a medley of “White Christmas” and “Christmas Time Is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

It’s Asia’s fifth year singing with Holmes.

“She loves theater and dance,” he says. “Which has made me very happy, because I don’t have to push her.”

Other members of Holmes’ extended musical family — including former musical director Bill Fayne and current musical director Jeff Neiman — will join a program highlighting favorites new and old.

Among the latter: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (which Holmes sings all year — but, as he points out, it is “the title song to my Christmas CD”) and a vintage family video featuring Holmes’ opera singer mother performing “O Holy Night” and his jazz-singing father delivering “Let It Snow.”

Traditional, to be sure, but “when else do you get to show that?” Holmes asks. “You only get to sing these songs once a year.”

■ Travis Cloer: “Christmas at My Place”

Play it again, Travis.

That’s exactly what Cloer, who plays Frankie Valli in the long-running musical “Jersey Boys”’ is doing, reprising last year’s Cabaret Jazz holiday show.

“We had such a great time last year,” he says, describing the show as “an amazing night, with great spirit in the air.”

Cloer’s inspiration is more on the air than in the air, harking back to holiday TV specials of yore, when the host welcomed a wide-ranging musical lineup.

This year’s guests include returnees Frankie Moreno (who’s leaving the Stratosphere later this month) and Niki Scalera, along with Paul Vann of the Las Vegas Tenors, Zowie Bowie’s Chris Phillips, violinist Lydia Ansel and “the girls of ‘Jersey Boys,’ ” the host notes.

In the show, Cloer and Moreno will team up for Stevie Wonder’s “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” and Scalera will join Cloer for “the old Platters arrangement of ‘White Christmas’ ” and Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer,” he notes.

“I try to mix it up,” Cloer says. “I’m a very eclectic singer and I love so many different kinds of music.”

■ Kristen Hertzenberg and Philip Fortenberry: “Holidays From the Heart”

Singer Kristen Hertzenberg (Christine from “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular”) and pianist Philip Fortenberry (the hand and body double for Michael Douglas’ Liberace in the Emmy-winning “Behind the Candelabra”) recorded a seasonal CD, “Holidays From the Heart,” in 2011. But they never performed the songs for an audience.

That changes Dec. 13 at Cabaret Jazz, which Fortenberry describes as “beautiful, elegant and intimate. It’s just a joy to play on that stage — it’s almost like inviting 250 people over to our house.” As a result, “you’re not performing for an audience, you’re sharing.”

The two will share songs familiar (“Christmas Time Is Here”), somewhat familiar (Annie Lennox’s “Universal Child”) and brand new — the latter represented by “Christmas Matters” by Keith Thompson, the musical director for “Jersey Boys,” who also hosts Cabaret Jazz’s monthly Composers Showcase.

“That’s one of the beauties and gifts of having access to composers and writers,” says Fortenberry, who sometimes plays the showcase when he’s in town. (He recently returned from a Broadway stint as the associate conductor for the now-closed “Rocky” musical.) “It’s really incredible how rich this community is with creatives.”

The most difficult and challenging thing, Fortenberry says, is the show’s mid-December date, partly because the holiday season “starts so darn early.”

“(Yet) through music, we can work through it,” he says. “We’re fatigued, but also excited about it.” As when Hertzenberg “sees the light in her daughter’s eyes — and the magic comes right back.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272. Follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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