Christopher GazeVSO: A Traditional Christmas

Date and Venue 12 December @ 4:00 pm | St Andrew's Welsey Church, Vancouver

Reviewer Olivia Bevan

This year the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra paired with the UBC Opera Ensemble and EnChor for their seasonal whirlwind tour, bringing their Traditional Christmas to venues throughout the lower mainland.

This afternoon they were playing at St Andrew’s Wesley Church, Vancouver. For those who do not usually attend VSO concerts, this holiday musical tradition is a wonderful opportunity to hear classical favourites, sprinkled with a little Christmas magic in some beautiful locations.

Placed up at the front of St Andrew’s, the VSO looked stunning. Instruments sparkled and shined for the event and everyone wore smart white jackets, accessorised with bright red bow ties or crimson coloured scarves—a welcome seasonal departure, on this occasion, from their usual elegant black attire.

The VSO didn’t appear present in their entirety—the consequence of a much smaller stage—but each type of instrument was represented, from harp to trumpet and timpani, and their performance was no less impressive.

The choirs too were simply stunning. The UBC Opera Ensemble, which tours both Canada and Europe, made their presence felt in St Andrew’s with exquisite voices ranging from piercing but beautiful soprano to deep, magnificent bass. Even when singing solo, the vocalists had no difficulty filling the church with song. The members of EnChor are regular partners with the VSO and added wonderful layers of depth to many of the hymns.

The first piece showcased that afternoon was the instantly recognizable Messiah, sounding both elegant and regal as the cries of trumpets echoed off the church walls. Afterwards, we were welcomed by the charismatic Christopher Gaze, our host for the evening, and were asked to stand and sing together Once In Royal David’s City, accompanied by the VSO.

While listening to the following piece, What Sweeter Music, we were encouraged to allow our minds to wander as stirring voices weaved in and out of one another in hypnotic, patterns of harmonies and tones; at times partnered perfectly by beautiful strings, at other times ringing out clear just on their own.

We were drawn back from our dream-like state by Christopher Gaze who began his enthusiastic and animated narration of the Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who guide him in the error of his ways. He delivered the story in mesmerizing, bite-size pieces, intermingled with well-placed hymns and tunes. His oration was captivating and the entire audience (which easily filled the church to capacity) was enthralled throughout.

Other musical pieces that afternoon were excerpts from the Nutcracker, including the famous Waltz of the Flowers; La Bohème: Musetta’s Waltz; and the chorus from Messiah: Hallelujah. Audience participation was encouraged during both Silent Night and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing but thankfully the choirs supported our singing attempts.

Among the frenetic hubbub of nearby downtown, this event was a serenely beautiful reminder of our Christmas roots. And for many families and friends there I’m sure the VSO’s Traditional Christmas signifies the true start to the season.

© 2009 Olivia Bevan