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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Holiday Pops’ offers a feast of sights, sounds in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College

“Holiday Pops” scene in Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, Dec. 20, 2019. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

“Holiday Pops” has been a splurge of so many things Christmas for how many years?

Conductor Kent Paulsen couldn’t put his finger on it Friday night. He fudged in saying it is the “somethingth annual” edition of “Holiday Pops.”

For the record, “Holiday Pops,” the name for the concert, was first used in 2003. But the concept of the concert likely goes back to 1997 under the title, “The Many Moods of Christmas.” Other titles followed, including “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” and “Holiday Parade.”

Whatever the title, the program has mostly changed from year to year, whether being formed by Dudley Birder or his hand-picked successor, Kent Paulsen. Constant are the opening and climax.

Open. To “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” a long procession of youth and adult singers arrives along aisles. Slowly, the piece builds and builds as the orchestra sound and vocal sound mount until maybe 300 people are on stage giving all as the organist on the hall’s Wood Family Organ “cranks ’er up.” The sight/sound display is meant to impress. Always does.

Climax. Another mass display gathers for “Silent Night,” with the added touch of a nativity scene. Usually, a young couple, as Joseph and Mary, create a tableau with a baby, as Jesus. This year, as is often the case, the baby is real… and, Friday, quite calm despite what all that was going on around the scene.

Between the opening and climax, much changes from year to year for the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College, an orchestra, a youth choir and, in recent years, a youth dance troupe.

A few thoughts on Friday night’s performance (to be repeated at 2:30 p.m. today, Dec. 21):

+ Dancers add much in three scenes. The orchestra was pristine for two dancers presenting the “Arabian Dance” from “The Nutcracker.” In Green Bay, live orchestra supporting anything of “The Nutcracker” is a rarity. The addition of the dancers means Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization artistic director Timothy Josephs and collaborators and dancers can express custom-made choreography. Again, the finely played live music heights the effect.

+ The orchestra is quite comfortable with Kent Paulsen, and he with the musicians. Along with Christmas music, luster of famed works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi grace the program. Kent Paulsen imagined the pieces being played on a 1740s version of a holiday pops concert, adding: “We’ll party like it’s 1742.”

+ Many a time, it is enjoyable to soak in the layered sounds of the chorale blended with all that the orchestra brings. Big muscle is part of the closer for the first half, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,” with the organ flexed mightily in the soundscape. Friday, Kent Paulsen was watchable as he finessed the sopranos as they climbed a ladder of notes skyward, following his left hand pointing upward – with his upraised eyes suggesting greater height.

+ The program includes fun (“Rudolph, Frosty and Suzy”) and joyousness and glory (“Joy to the World,” etc.) and thoughtful auras of the season (“In the bleak mid-winter”) and a setup for a hallowed element near the end. Trumpeters Jamie Karp Waroff, Adam Gaines and Tyler Terrell let fly in the whiz-bang “Bugler’s Holiday,” a kind of fanfare for what followed – four gentle selections that represent the reverence of the season… the whole what-for of Christmas.

For the umpteenth year, “Holiday Pops” is a glorious celebration.

Side note: During the program, Kent Paulsen made note of arriving in Green Bay at age 23 and being influenced by three “giants” of music. One was Miroslav Pansky, music director and conductor of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, under whose umbrella “Holiday Pops” started. Another was Marshall Moss, voice professor at St. Norbert College, where Kent Paulsen is a member of the music department. The third is Dudley Birder, the St. Norbert College music professor who among many other things, formed the Collegiate Chorale that became the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College.

***

Creative:

Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College, Kent Paulsen, artistic director

Holiday Pops Orchestra, Kent Paulsen, conductor

Birder Studio of Performing Arts, Alicia Birder, artistic director

Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization, Timothy Josephs, artistic director

Running time: Two hours, 17 minutes

Remaining performance: 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21

Info: weidnercenter.com

***

Program

Part I

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” – John Francis Wade, arranged by John Rutter

“Christmas Bells Medley” – arranged by Dudley Birder

Birder Studio of Performing Arts

“Joy to the World” – arrange by Mack Wilberg

“Magnificat” from “Magnificat D-Dur BWV 243” – Johann Sebastian Bach

“Gloria in Excelsis” from “Gloria RV 589” – Antonio Vivaldi

“Arabian Dance (Le Café)” from “The Nutcracker” – Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky

Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization

“In the bleak mid-winter” – Gustav Holst, arrange by Mack Wilberg

“Introduction,” “March” and “Shepherd’s Dance” from “Amahl and the Night Visitors” – Gian Carlo Menotti

“Pat-a Pan” and “In Dulci Jubilo” from “Many Moods of Christmas” – arranged by Robert Shaw

“Bell Carols” and “Deck the Halls” from “Christmas Ornaments” – arranged by Randol A. Bass

“Les Patineurs Valse (The Skater’s Waltz)” – Emile Waldteufel

Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – Felix Mendelssohn, arranged by Mack Wilberg

Part II

“Rudolph, Frosty and Suzy” – arranged by Mark Hayes

“Christmas Canon” – Johann Pachelbel, arranged by Paul O’Neill, Andy Beck

Birder Studio of Performing Arts

“Wizards in Winter” – Paul O’Neill, Robert Kinkel, arranged by Bob Phillips

“Home Alone Suite – Leslie Bricusse, John Williams

    “Somewhere in My Memory”

    “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas”

“Bugler’s Holiday” – Leroy Anderson

“What Sweeter Music” – John Rutter

“Fantasia on Greensleeves” – Ralph Vaughan Williams

Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization

“The First Nowell” – arrange by Mack Wilberg

“Silent Night, Holy Night” – Joseph Mohr, Franz Xaver Gruber

***

NEXT: “Mozart Masterworks,” March 20.

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

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