Wineke review: MSO Christmas keeps getting more interesting

Wineke review: MSO Christmas keeps getting more interesting
Submitted photo
Cecilia Violetta Lopez

In New York City, the Christmas season begins with the lighting of a tree at Rockefeller Center. In Washington, it’s the tree on the Mall.

Madison doesn’t have that tradition (though the Capitol tree is a regular feature). Here, we begin the Christmas season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday concert.

Music director John DeMain has been organizing that concert for the past 25 years and for several years it kept getting bigger and better. But there’s kind of a limit to that endeavor – though the University of Wisconsin Band concerts might belay that thought.

For several years now, the MSO concerts have just been getting more interesting.

Fourteen years ago, DeMain invited the Mount Zion Gospel Choir to participate, along with the Madison Symphony Chorus and the Madison Youth Choirs. The Mount Zion group rocked the symphony hall in the early years. By now, however, its punchy rhythms seem to permeate the entire concert atmosphere.

The weekend concerts featured a local singer with an international reputation, Kyle Ketelsen, who lives in Sun Prairie but is now singing the role of Escamillo in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Carmen,” and Cecilia Violetta Lopez, who lives in Las Vegas and will spend Christmas with her family in Mexico.

Orchestra membersJohn Aley, who has his own international reputation as a trumpet player, as well as members Leanne League and Xavier Pleindoux, violinists, shared the solo roles with the singers.

Overall, the concert seemed less a spectacular than a friendly, family holiday party – except the singing and musicians were far superior to anything most of us experience at home.

The concert included parts of Handel’s “Messiah” and Bach’s “Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Orchestra.”

As Lopez sang a jazzy Spanish Christmas song, DeMain left the podium and started dancing with her.

Leotha Stanley, who with his wife, Tamera, directs the Mount Zion choirs, writes his own music and arranges traditional carols for the choir. To hear Mount Zion, the Madison Symphony Chorus and the Madison Youth Choir High School Ensemble rock out “O Holy Night” was worth the price of admission all by itself.

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