Philharmonic holiday concert adds new twists to chestnuts

As music director and conductor of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, David Itkin knows how to make chestnuts — the musical variety — crackle and glow. On Saturday, he mixed them with newer and unexpected offerings for a big, bright holiday concert including all or part of at least 18 songs.

The orchestra, under Itkin’s direction, was joined by the Las Vegas Master Singers as well as soprano Kristen Hertzenberg, making a return performance, and tenor Travis Cloer. Hertzenberg appears as Christine Daae in “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” at The Venetian, and Cloer portrays Franki Valli in “Jersey Boys” at Palazzo.

Cloer grabbed the crowd with the first few notes of his “This Christmas (Hang Up the Mistletoe).” His version was dreamy, jazzy and Rat Pack smooth.

He showed more versatility with reverential and classic numbers throughout the evening, including an emotional “Mary, Did You Know?”

Hertzenberg repeated her standout “O Holy Night” from last year and threw herself into “Some Children See Him,” accompanied only by Itkin on piano. No jazz here; it was simple and heartfelt. She took a fun, if melancholy, turn with “Hard Candy Christmas” from “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

The five dozen-plus Master Singers showed special work on “The Virgin’s Lullaby,” with Hertzenberg, Cloer and the orchestra as well as a fun “Fum, Fum, Fum,” a traditional Catalan carol.

The orchestra, though it did occasionally sit silently, had great fun with “I Saw Three Ships,” arranged almost as a sea shanty, and brought new life to other expected classics.

Concertmaster DeAnn Letourneau was a standout with her featured work with Itkin and Cloer on “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

Itkin even included a debut for the orchestra, “A Song of Hanukkah/Feast of Lights,” composed in the 1950s by American Samuel Adler; think “The Magnificent Seven” meets a menorah.

Carols can become tired, and annual performances can grow cobwebs. But Itkin kept this one fresh, constructing a holiday evening to remember.

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