ORLANDO — Albert George Schram walked onto the stage, sat down, and glanced out at the audience that had gathered inside the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. It was exactly an hour before the start of a concert that, Schram noted, had been a very long time in the planning stages.
“This is an informal concert,” said the native of the Netherlands, who is also the conductor for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra.
“One of the things I was thinking about when I was preparing this concert, is believe it or not, it was in March,” Schram said. “It takes weeks and weeks to put this together.”
The occasion was an annual tradition designed to help bring Orlando into the spirit of the season: the Orlando Philharmonic’s Thanksgiving week program, as part of its 2013-2014 Super Series. “Home for the Holidays,” as it was billed, was a salute to a season that Schram said he absolutely adored, which is why, he added, he spent so much time lovingly selecting just the right pieces for the two-hour long extravaganza.
During a pre-concert talk with the audience, Schram said he’d had quite a few holiday gems to pick from.
“One of the nice things about finding music for the holiday concert is they have some very good composers,” he said. “Some of them over the years have been my friends and acquaintances.”
The stage was designed to help set the mood, with two Christmas trees in the back, poinsettias up front, and Christmas lights dangling along the edge of the stage. Once the concert started for a near-full house audience of all ages, the Philharmonic would go through some familiar holiday classics. That included a Jazzy version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” to a show-stopping blend of two seemingly contrasting songs, Handel’s “Messiah” with “When the Saints Come Marching In,” where the addition of the Philharmonic’s Holiday Singers brought it powerfully to life.
“Some of them will strut their stuff soloistically for you,” Schram said of his chorus. “I don’t know about you, but I always want to take them home with me, or at least one, who understands the dignity of music.”
There were several concert sing-alongs, as the Philharmonic provided the audience with the lyrics to “Deck The Halls,” “Joy To The World” and other Christmas carols in their playbills.
“I had great arrangements of all the old Christmas carols,” Schram said. “I thought we should have the orchestra have a chance to shine as well.”
During rehearsals, he added, he got the sense that the orchestra was doing just that, and he felt confident the audience would agree.
One of the highlights of the concert was the use of the Florida Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus, which accompanied the orchestra on its version of “The Little Drummer Boy.”
In the pre-concert talk, Schram said he was very enthusiastic about that number, and how beautifully the children perform it.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “They always exceed my expectations for how much they have to learn in such a short period of time.”
Another highlight, he added, was the orchestra’s take on “Silent Night,” which would be done in a “Mannheim Steamroller approach,” Schram said of the American music group well known for its modern versions of Christmas music.
Schram said it wasn’t an easy adjustment to adopt on Mannheim’s distinctive style.
“It was not my bag,” he said.
Still, the song was accompanied by a visual delight: Amanda Cariotto of Orlando Aerial Arts dangling from two pieces of silk high above the stage, performing acrobatics during the song. Schram admitted beforehand that it would likely be a real crowd-pleaser.
“It’s meant to be the cherry on the cake,” he said. “But it threatens to be the cake itself!”
He was also excited about the use of Robert Carpenter on tuba during their rendition of “Wassail, Wassail all over the tuba,” with a sound that wasn’t exactly quaintly melodic.
“After we are done with all our hallelujahs, hallelujahs, hallelujahs, the tuba plays one ugly note – pftoooop,” Schram said.
The concert would include songs that ranged from “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells” – classics that Schram said were a joy to perform.
“I love this time of year,” he said. “Everybody shows up, and everybody wants to be happy. I have the best job in the world.”
At the start of the concert, he looked out at the huge audience, and added, “No better place to be than with the Orlando Philharmonic. We are grateful you are here.”
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