CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's Christmas Pops Concert is a staple of Charleston's Christmas season. Without Maestro Grant Cooper's elfin shoe change, I doubt Santa would realize it was almost time to deliver presents.This year, the symphony once again offers up heart-warming and charming holiday cheer.Classic Christmas fare such as "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "The Little Drummer Boy" were given new and exciting life. In fact, "The Little Drummer Boy" was quite possibly the standout piece of the evening.Opening the second half of the program, the arrangement started out light and gentle, with a sweet but precisely expressed passing of the melody from the gentle and melodic flutes and violins to the more commanding trombones and trumpets. As the piece grew in intensity, it became increasingly tense and dramatic. It was absolutely breathtaking and, by far, one of the best renditions I have ever had the privilege to witness.
"O Come, O Come Emmanuel" is not to be lightly passed over, though. The layering of the symphony choirs, from Parkersburg and Charleston, and the West Virginia State University Choir with the orchestra was impeccable. This opening piece really showed off what can be done with the musical talent available in this state."Fantasia on Greensleeves" also was a conspicuously lovely piece. Soft and whimsical, with an almost fairy-like feel, the light, airy bits layered nicely upon the rich warm undertone of cello and bass. It was music that almost had taste and feel, it was so tangible. The subtleties wove together so nicely as to create something altogether new and inviting. I found myself leaning forward and melding into the music.The fluffier parts of the concert were, as always, charming and fun. Audience participation makes some pieces, like "Sleigh Ride" and the "Sing Along," perfect for families and children of all ages. The choirs once again joined the orchestra for a compilation of classic fun Christmas carols like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is coming to Town," "Jingle Bells" and "Frosty the Snowman."Although this medley, "Seasonal Sounds," was entertaining and a great audience favorite, there was a moment during "Frosty" when the choirs and the orchestra were in blaringly different tempos. However, they all quickly recovered and brought it back to a shining and well-loved conclusion.Cooper included another whimsical fun piece, "Goldilocks and the Three Elves." Although I am sure this piece was charming, it was abounding in costume changes and included a dramatic reading by Cooper. Poor microphone sound quality hurt this segment. As Cooper moved about stage, most of his dialogue was lost to those of us in the balconies.The Appalachian Childrens' Choir joined the second half of the performance for several numbers. I cannot express well enough how absolutely lovely and angelic their voices were. They preformed a piece, "L'ador Vador," that was absolutely breathtaking. The soprano and alto duet was magical. Beautiful, clear and earnest, in only the way that children's voices can be, their precious sound was haunting and heart rending."Go Tell it On the Mountain" concluded the performance, and while it could have been grand, it was almost too much. It turned into a slight cacophony and was a bit overwhelming.Overall, this show is, as always, a joy to watch and participate in, an accessible way for music and the arts to reach a large and appreciative audience.The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra will perform the Christmas program again Saturday at 8 pm. If you are looking for a way to jump-start your holiday spirit, you should definitely attend.