Strike a Christmas chord with the Missoula Symphony’s holiday concert 

“Behind this concert is the growing interest of the symphony in bringing more youth to performances,” says the Missoula Symphony’s Music Director/Conductor Joseph Henry, who has been with the symphony since 1985. “Hansel and Gretel is considered one of the three most important pieces for children,” he adds. “It’s done every Christmas in Europe in a way that is comparable to The Nutcracker here.”

Hansel and Gretel, by Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921), and Gloria, by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), are the two selections that will be presented by the Missoula Symphony Orchestra this holiday season. Joining the symphony for these concerts are members of the Symphony Chorale—the orchestra’s vocal counterpart—and the choruses of Sentinel High School, Hellgate High School and Big Sky High School. The solos of both works will be sung by sopranos Lynette Badgley and Mariko Matsumura, and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Cooper.

Both of these pieces, while not specifically Christmas music, have what director John Driscoll refers to as “a holiday feel.” Gloria, of course, is classic church music, a concerted piece of, literally, glory to God on high. It’s this sort of full, exalted singing from a large choir—80 voices all told—that brings to mind luminous cherubic angels, dappled light through stained glass, and reverence.

“Vivaldi,” says Henry, “was primarily a violin composer. He really scored on this piece with the voice. And it is not so widely known.” After Vivaldi’s death, Gloria was lost until 1935, when it was rediscovered and played again for the first time.

Humperdinck, meanwhile, a former assistant to Richard Wagner who was fully schooled in the great late-Romantic tradition, wrote Hansel and Gretel as an opera, inspired by traditional German folk songs and, of course, the Grimms’ fairy tale. At one point, The Sandman, whose role will be performed by Mariko Matsumura, comes to put the children to sleep with the melody of the touching and well-known lullaby that begins, “when I lay me down to sleep.” Says Henry, “This piece, which takes a very big orchestra, has such a wonderful touch of lightness—a joyous and childlike quality.”

The Wilma, home of the Missoula Symphony Association, provides acoustics that are complemented by the ornate decor of another era. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” says Driscoll. And while the stage does not provide a tremendous amount of space, Henry says, “You’d be surprised with what they can do within a four-foot square. Hansel and Gretel, particularly, takes very skilled singers. They do some acting within that space which gives a real touch of the dramatic.”

The Missoula Symphony, currently in its 45th season, is made up of local musicians, mostly from Missoula and the Bitterroot, including some UM faculty and students. Two of approximately 70 regular orchestra members are still in high school. And interestingly enough, even director John Driscoll himself serves as a trumpet player in the orchestra.
The Missoula Symphony performs its holiday concert this Saturday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 3 p.m. in the Wilma Theatre. Tickets range from $7 to $21. Call 721-3194.

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