Even though the weather is not feeling the Christmas spirit, the Philadelphia Orchestra most certainly is. Cristian Macelaru and Charlotte Blake Alston ushered in the Christmas season Dec. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “Holiday Spectacular” at the Kimmel Center. The concert showcased classic Christmas music from around the world and many cute surprises.
The “Spectacular” was conducted by Macelaru, who was just promoted to associate conductor in November. Macelaru conducts nonsubscription concerts and covers music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin. Alston is a well-known storyteller, narrator, instrumentalist and singer who has been featured in many acclaimed venues throughout the world. The Pennsylvania Ballet II dancers also made an appearance. The dancers of the Pennsylvania Ballet II are preprofessional dancers who are instructed daily by William DeGregory. They rehearse and dance with the Pennsylvania Ballet main company for larger shows.
Macelaru and Alston brought a new perspective to the classic Christmas tales we grew up listening to. Alston narrates the tales while Macelaru brings the magic in the stories to life by providing a beautiful soundtrack.
No Christmas spectacular is complete without incorporating Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.” Although Alston’s narrating and the orchestra’s music are world class, no re-enactment of “The Nutcracker” would be complete without ballerinas in toy costumes prancing around the stage. The Pennsylvania Ballet II dancers smoothly flowed with the music and truly brought the vision of Tchaikovsky to life. The Arabian princess was a spectacular sight who made splits appear to be effortless and comfortable.
After spending some time in Russia with “The Nutcracker,” the conductor took us to France with “Farandole.” The Christmas song “Farandole” was fast paced and pumped with Christmas spirit. It’s definitely a song to play when the family gets a bit too merry with eggnog.
After spending some time in France, Macelaru took the audience to his home country of Romania with Johann Strauss’ “Eljen a Magyar!” In the middle of the piece, a roar went through the audience as Santa Claus came by. Santa took the stage, gave Macelaru a teddy bear and took over the role as conductor.
Alston then brought the audience home with “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” with Santa strolling about in the audience. After feeling the merriment, the orchestra and Alston did a sing along to “Deck the Halls,” “Jingle Bells,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Joy to the World” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”