By Linda Amiel Burns
The New York Pops, under the leadership of Steven Reineke, held what it hopes to become an annual holiday celebration concert on December 10 and 11 at Carnegie Hall. The guest vocalist was the Tony Award winning singer, Brian Stokes Mitchell who took the evening off from his starring role on Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown currently at Lincoln Center. On the stage was a chorus of 80 called Essential Voices, a group of volunteer and school-age singers who perform a wide range of musical genres. This chorus consisted of high school students from the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.
The concert opened with a medley of traditional Christmas songs entitled “Sing with Us of Christmas.” Brian Stokes Mitchell was introduced, and after a genial welcome to all, performed a rousing rendition of “Sleigh Ride” (Leroy Anderson) followed by “The Friendly Beasts”, a old English carol. Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an open fire) was given a special arrangement with an upbeat rhythm. Brian talked about the song “The Little Drummer Boy” and said that it is never performed with an actual drummer boy so he then introduced Jared Silverstein, a 13-year-old phenom from New Jersey who made his “Carnegie Hall debut” drumming to the song. The first act closed with the world premiere of a stirring medley called “Songs of Freedom: A Celebration of Chanukah.”
The second act opened with the Camp Broadway Chorus http://www.campbroadway.com comprised of 60 talented performers from age 10 to 17 from 12 states and more that 36 cities around the United States. They ran down the aisles to the stage dressed in green, red and white sweaters adorned with matching scarfs and gloves singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” with the Pops and Essential Voices. Then the adorable group of kids sang and performed special choreography to “The Jingle Bell Rock.” One of the highlights of the concert was Brian and the Pops performing John Bucchino’s beautiful song “Grateful.” I was sitting behind the composer and John said that it was an enormous thrill to hear his song performed by Brian, the Pops and Essential Voices. The evening closed with a Christmas Sing-a-long. The audience was given a lyric sheet with the program to “Hark The Herald Angels Sang” and everyone sang out with gusto.
This celebration at NY’s most treasured hall was a joyous evening of song – a holiday songfest. With the success of these two nights, I believe that this concert will become a NY tradition and should be repeated next season. Brian Stokes Mitchell was the perfect guest artist and host as his thrilling voice rang through the hall – a good time was had by all.