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Philharmonic anchors varied music program

Santa opened his pack Saturday evening and out spilled a wealth of musical pleasure. The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall was nearly full, and the audience showed smiles and a growing holiday spirit.

Guest conductor Bob Bernhardt led the Las Vegas Philharmonic through a varied program that offered something for everyone. Extremes ranged from “Nuttin’ for Christmas,” (‘cause I ain’t been nuttin’ but bad’) sung by the Clark County Children’s Choir, to a hair-raising “Gloria” by Randol Bass, performed with stunning effect by the Las Vegas Master Singers. Other featured musicians included tenor Tim King and the Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School Handbell Ensemble.

The glue that held such a diverse program together was our own Philharmonic Pops Orchestra, which seems to put as much energy and artistry into a relatively light program as they do to their Masterworks Series. They were in the spotlight early with Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” now a staple on holiday pops programs nationwide.

Another staple is the reading of “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas;” performed by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman and former Mayor Oscar Goodman. The tone was set when Oscar appeared with his omnipresent cocktail glass bearing a clear liquid. Mayor Carolyn assured the audience,” It’s not water.”

The beautiful “Evening Prayer” from Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel and Gretel” featured two members of the Clark County Children’s Choir, Joshua Steed and Rachel Davis, ages 8 and 9 respectively. Very artfully done!

John Rutter’s gentle and expressive “What Sweeter Music” for chorus and strings and his splendid arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” spotlighted the Master Singers.

They were followed by King performing the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling’ ” and, with a bow to Andy Williams, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

The program’s second half had him presenting “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and “Maria” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” (While well sung and tastefully done, I find it difficult to connect “Maria,” standing alone, with a holiday concert, but I warned you it was a diverse program.)

While King has recently retired as an arts administrator, including posts as executive director of the Louisville Orchestra and vice president of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, he continues to study voice at Bethel College in Indiana and performs frequently.

What Pops program would be complete these days without something by John Williams? The program’s first half was brought to a close by three holiday songs from his score for the film “Home Alone;” the lovely and gentle “Somewhere in My Memory,” Star of Bethlehem,” and “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.” The Master Singers touched more than a few heartstrings.

The second half began on a far more serious note with Bass’s “Gloria.” The piece is notable for its abrupt shifts from complex driving rhythms to legato passages, most notable a truly elegant section in three-quarter time.

The “Gloria” from the Roman Catholic Mass has been set countless times, some inspiring, others not so. J.S. Bach, Beethoven and Poulenc come to mind as examples of the former. In introducing the piece, conductor Bernhardt offered the opinion that this is the best setting of the text to be introduced in decades.

The Faith Lutheran students produced an effective Handbell Processional. That whetted appetites for a work featuring bells; “Glories Ring” by Steve Amundson. The orchestra and the Children’s Choir then presented “Waltz of the Snowflakes” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Bernhardt exhibits a spontaneous wit and an easygoing air that seems to put his performers at ease. He is a craftsman whose years of experience lead to superior music making.

Others who deserve praise are Master Singers’ director Jocelyn Jensen, Holly Steed, director of the Clark County Children’s Choir and Sandra Youmans, director of music programs at Faith Lutheran Middle and High Schools.

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