Christmas stars shine in Philharmonic’s ‘Holiday Pops’

With a beautiful backdrop of shimmering stars, the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic presented its “Holiday Pops!” concert on Saturday at Judson Erne Auditorium. This bit of theatrical magic, namely a star curtain which is a large piece of fabric with hundreds of Christmas lights inserted into it, provided the perfect setting for a magical evening of stars on stage in the professional orchestra’s annual holiday gift to the community of Columbus.

Many of the stars of the evening were former or are current residents of Columbus, which made the concert even more special to those in attendance.

The youngest stars of the evening were the members of the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir organization, specifically the Concert Choir, Descant Choir and The Greensburg Neighborhood Choir Academy under the leadership of Artistic Director Ruth Dwyer and Assistant Director Melissa Garcia. The children sang with a clear, effortless tone throughout the range of their selections with some excellent part-singing, challenging harmonies and effective dynamic contrasts.

With some great facial expressions, several of these young stars show the potential to be the stars of the future and may one day return to this stage as has one of the stars to be mentioned later. “Hanerot Halalu,” a Traditional Chanukah Melody, was beautifully sung in Hebrew and involved some intricate tempo changes that required the synchronous collaboration of veteran stars Dwyer and Maestro David Bowden.

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More rising stars were allowed to sparkle in several instrumental solos performed by members of the orchestra and some special guests. The saxophone artistry of recent Columbus North graduate Alex Farrar was highlighted in a couple of selections from Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite,” a symphonic jazz version of the Tchaikovsky classic and he was also featured in the poignant holiday favorite “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Farrar plays with a rich, warm sound showcasing his sense of style and musicality. Principal Trumpet Eric Rodriguez displayed his wonderful improvisatory skills and exciting style also in the Ellington pieces which Bowden cleverly programmed back-to-back with their Tchaikovsky originals. Another exquisite moment in the concert was “Song of the Birds,” a Catalan Folk Song arranged by Casals and featured Principal Cellist SeungAh Hong.

Her sensitivity to the beauty of the musical line and her total involvement in her musicianship brought a moment of “you could hear a pin drop” to an otherwise lighthearted concert. Keyboardist Timothy Stephenson was featured in many moments throughout the evening. He was especially strong as part of the musical trio, with bass guitarist Gregory Wang and set drummer Mark Stemple, supporting the vocal soloist of the evening and providing the style kick when the Philharmonic performed as a symphonic jazz band.

Though at times they were a little overpowering dynamically, their intensity and drive made for some wonderfully exciting musical moments with the full orchestra and when they served as the only backup to the vocal solo star of the evening, Madelyn Lego.

Lego, who is a Columbus native who sang with the Columbus Indiana Children’s Choir years ago and is now an up-and-coming performer in New York, sparkled throughout the evening in a wide variety of styles and musical genres. Equally comfortable in classical, pop or jazz, her voice is clear, effortlessly produced and easy to listen to, whether belting or producing her highest soprano stratosphere notes.

Though occasionally some of her words were lost, her personality is easygoing but engaging, contributing to her fine performance of “Jingle Bells” arranged by Cohen, “There Is Faint Music” by Forrest, and “Star of Bethlehem” by Rick Vale with rising star Elizabeth Alderfer, a sixth grader with the Columbus Children’s Choir.

Her jazz styling was fun and appropriate with the support of only the instrumental trio on “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus” and “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag.” Her concert-ending performance of “O Holy Night” allowed her to showcase her straight-tone pop style and shine with her classically-trained and audience-thrilling high notes. Her star in New York is sure to rise as she matures and continues to grow as she develops her own unique style.

All of these shining stars were surrounded and enveloped by the many shimmering stars of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.