If It Sounds Good, It Is Good! | December 2016


This month, we’re back where it all began. In 1996, the second year of my tenure with the CSO, I was given an opportunity that changed my life and career path. As assistant conductor, I worked closely with Erich Kunzel and Music Director Jesús López-Cobos in the production of their concerts, as well as conducting Young People’s, Parks and Family concerts. But in the fall of 1996, I was asked to lead a creative team and develop a holiday spectacular called “Home for the Holidays,” something I had never imagined would appear on my resumé. Within three months, from our collective imaginations to the fully staged production, we pulled out all the stops. From new and fanciful orchestral arrangements, dance numbers, and amazing vocal settings to dazzling sets and costumes, the Taft Theatre came to brilliant life with joyous music, spectacular effects and a whole lot of heart, just days before Christmas. It was nothing short of a miracle—the weeks of all-nighters, intense rehearsals and more than our fair share of hand wringing and hand holding, nurtured a production that became one of Cincinnati’s most beloved, and alas, ephemeral holiday traditions. I assumed my fledgling career with the CSO would lead to a life of conducting solely classical orchestral repertoire, but after experiencing the birth of this magical holiday pops production, I never looked back.

Twenty years later I’m back in the Taft Theatre as conductor of the greatest pops orchestra on the planet and overjoyed to bring many of the old favorites from “Home for the Holidays” back to life, as well as introduce a handful of new arrangements crafted in the same diverse and eclectic way we did two decades ago. We’ll have that wonderful mix of traditional carols, many of which have been immortalized on our three sensational Holiday Pops recordings, alongside new classics like “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas.”

Joining us for these concerts is our effervescent Holiday Pops Chorale as well as the American Idol show-stopper Melinda Doolittle. Her career has skyrocketed since stealing our hearts on the sixth season of the show, and she has been bringing down houses in venues across the country ever since. She makes her Pops debut in the FIVE concerts we present the first weekend in December. In addition to “Holiday Pops,” this month we welcome back our good friends Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, collectively known as Over the Rhine. They made their Pops debut in January 2015 as part of the now legendary American Originals concert/recording, and we began plotting their return for a holiday engagement the very next day! I have admired their sublime and heartfelt holiday recordings for years, and am thrilled they are joining us again for a one-night-only concert on December 20. We are creating a gorgeous set of new orchestrations just for this show as well as several new selections that are bound to become new classics.

As a special treat for kids and families, the Pops also presents the premiere screening of the gorgeous animated film The Snowman with the live orchestral accompaniment of Howard Blake’s delightful score. The 25-minute film uses meticulously crafted hand-drawn images, projected in hi-definition over the stage, to tell an unforgettable story of youthful imagination. A perennial favorite in Great Britain, it is as wonderful for kids as it is for adults.

Last, but certainly not least, Taft Theatre hosts the wildest New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2017. I’ll be conducting the Pops alongside The Hot Sardines, a new blazingly swinging band from Manhattan. Making their Cincinnati debut, they mix equal parts of hot jazz and stylish attitude with a shot of glam and will be a 1920s extravaganza that’s naughty AND nice! Peace on earth, goodwill to all—I LOVE December!