CSO’s “Welcome Yule” offers a festive family show

Sat Dec 18, 2010 at 3:33 pm

By Wynne Delacoma

The CSO presented “Welcome Yule” Friday night at Symphony Center.

With “Sale” signs sprouting on every store counter during this final week of the Christmas shopping season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is making sure that audiences for its annual Welcome Yule! program get their money’s worth.

Though the touch was appropriately light, the artistic forces were sumptuous Friday night as the family-friendly show opened its seven-performance run.

Duain Wolfe, director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus was on the podium for this 15th anniversary installment of the show, looking impish and festive in his trim white beard and a green vest as he led the chorus and members of the CSO. There was a comically rambunctious children’s choir, Midwest Young Artists Voice Rising, four pairs of dancers, two actors, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and, of course, Santa Claus.

The stage of Orchestra Hall was decked with elegant green garlands and giant wreaths, all of which lit up on cue. The pace was fast, though things turned a little cloying in the second half with its extended focus on the awesome wonder of Chicago, not to mention the CSO.

But the large audience, enlivened by lots of little girls in velvet dresses and dressed-up teens on dates, was in the mood to celebrate. They sang along with carols even without Wolfe’s prompting, and their applause was hearty and spontaneous.

As well it should have been for this generally top-notch show.

A few weeks ago the Chicago Symphony Chorus tackled Janacek’s daunting Glagolitic Mass. On Friday night they sounded just as luminous and well-drilled in material that ranged from carols to the Shepherds’ Chorus from Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. Breaking out a 16-voice a cappella group for a swinging tune was a good idea, but the execution sounded ragged in spots.

The 60-voice choral ensemble from the North Shore-based Midwest Performing Artists program was a delight as the bad boys and girls in the silly Nuttn’ for Christmas. Prepared by director Benjamin Gray, they sang with crisp diction and verve while turning themselves into an unruly band of naughty kids. Wearing red turtleneck shirts, popping up and down for bits of spontaneous mischief, they were the living image of spontaneous combustion.

Harrison McEldowney’s choreography for the show’s eight dancers was full of big, swooping jumps and lifts, just the thing to showcase the supple female dancers and their long, rippling skirts. Actors Laura Coover and Demetrios Troy were touching as the young couple in the show’s version of O. Henry’s famous Christmas story, The Gift of the Magi.

The CSO members onstage were caught up in the spirit, bringing energy and a sure touch to inventive arrangements created for them by composer/arranger Gary Fry.

Welcome Yule! continues through December 24. cso.org; 312-294-3000.

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