• What: "Home for the Holidays" by Chattanooga Symphony & Opera.
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16.
• Where: Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.
• Admission: $19-$79.
• Phone: 267-8583.
• Website: www.chattanoogasymphony
For her first time leading the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's annual "Home for the Holidays" concert, conductor Kayoko Dan will have plenty of balls to keep in the air.
In addition to more than 70 symphony musicians and 50 vocalists from the CSO Chorus, the concerts Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 15-16, will feature a 50-member handbell choir, a big-band ensemble, two dancers, WRCB anchor Greg Glover as the host and special guest appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Even with so many moving parts, Dan says she was excited to take over when conductor emeritus Robert Bernhardt, who normally wields the baton for "Home for the Holidays," bowed out due to a scheduling conflict.
"It will go smoothly," she says. "We're pretty used to doing crazy stuff around here, so we keep calm, do our own part, and hopefully everything will fall into place."
This year's program will be a definite departure from years past. The program features jazzed-up, "Hollywood-esque" versions of seasonal favorites arranged by pianist Jim Gray, who normally performs with the CSO during its "Big Band Fever" concert each February.
The program, which will last just under two hours including intermission, will feature beloved selections such as "Sleigh Ride," "Joy to the World," "The 12 Days of Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
Gray's versions of the songs should satisfy lovers of seasonal music while offering just enough of a departure to make them sound fresh and exciting, Dan says.
"There's a lot of fun rhythm and hidden characters in it," she says. "I think it's a lot of fun; it works."
With almost 200 musicians, dancers and "reindeer games" (children's activities preceding the Sunday concert at 1 p.m.), "Home for the Holidays" provides a visually and aurally striking way to celebrate the season, Dan says.
The arrangements may be new this year, but the CSO holiday concert has always offered audiences a different perspective on music they generally experience in a more subdued setting, she says.
"[The music] gets to the core of your body, and you feel the vibration," Dan says. "Not only do you hear all these sounds coming at you; you feel them.
"Coming and hearing it live with that many people creating something together and performing together is just really powerful, I think."
Chattanooga Times Free Press entertainment reporter Casey Phillips spoke with Chattanooga Symphony and Opera conductor Kayoko Dan about what makes the Home for the Holidays concert special, the spectacle of conducting 180 musicians and her thoughts on conducting the concert for the first time.
CP: Do you get the feeling that Home for the Holidays has become a tradition for both regular symphony goers and the general public?
KD: Yeah, I think so. I think it's one of the most popular concerts we have for the season. It just puts you in the spirit for Christmas. We're putting together a whole new show for this season, and we're really excited about it. Our pianist we have for our big band concert every February produces shows. He approached us and said he could put together a really fun show.
He knows we coordinate with Metropolitan Bells and have the CSO Chorus, so he incorporated all these things. He's a jazz musician, so he's also bringing in his big band core group. It's going to be kind of crazy on stage. We're having two dancers from Center for Creative Arts. [Laughs.] And we'll have Santa and Mrs. Claus, and Greg Glover from Channel 3 is going to be hosting us. It's going to be great fun.
CP: That's a lot of moving parts. Has it been difficult to coordinate so many groups working together?
KD: I don't know because we have our first rehearsal a week from today. I'll let you know then. It will go smoothly. We're pretty used to doing crazy stuff around here, so we keep calm and do our own part and hopefully everything will fall into place.
A lot of music has been arranged for this specific concert. They're arrangements of well-known Christmas tunes, but they're new arrangements. Many of them are done by Jim Gray, who approached us with this project. People will be hearing these things for the first time ever, which is really exciting.
CP: How would you characterize those arrangements? How do they differ from the versions people are most familiar with?
KD: He is bringing in a big band core group - the drum set and electric bass - and he'll play piano, so it has a jazzy feel to a lot of the arrangements. Some of the music has a Hollywood feel to it, and one piece kind of feels like Flintstones meets "Deck the Halls" or something.
There's a lot of fun rhythm and hidden characters in it. I think it's a lot of fun; it works.
CP: What is the mood like among the CSO membesr? Do they get as excited about the holidays and playing this show as the public does?
KD: It's always exciting. December is probably the busiest time for us, as musicians, because people want to celebrate the season, so they go see "The Nutcracker" or a holiday pops concert or, in some cities, "The Messiah." So December is the busiest time.
Also, it's really exciting for us, as musicians, to be able to play for people who might not come to our regular concerts but who come for the holidays. It's always exciting to play for a new audience. Hopefully, we'll get them excited enough to come to our regular masterworks and pops series.
CP: What will having all those groups involve add to the experience?
KD: Visually, it's amazing to have that many people on stage. The bells are very visual instruments. There will be a lot of different sounds, and it's just really cool. I believe we'll have around 50 bell players, but they're not all from Metropolitan Bells. We'll have members from other community bell choirs.
For this concert, we'll have around 70 to 80 musicians from the symphony, 50 bell players and about 50 chorus members. I don't know how we're going to fit. [Laughs.]
CP: What is holiday music like when performed by a full orchestra? How does that add to the listening experience?
KD: To me, it's the whole atmosphere of being in the hall and hearing the sound live is just amazing. It gets to the core of your body, and you feel the vibration. Not only do you hear all these sounds coming at you; you feel them. Nothing beats like music.
You never know what's going to happen on stage, and if you miss it, you miss it; you can never recreate that sound. Sometimes, we play, for example, "The Nutcracker," and we do three shows a year for years and years, but every night is different. Coming and hearing it live with that many people creating something together and performing together is just really powerful, I think.
CP: These are all pieces that should be familiar to the vast majority of people. Does that make it easier or harder to perform?
KD: Oh, it's easier. [Laughs.] Plus, it's always nice to hear stuff you love to hear for the holidays anyway. People expect to hear certain things, and we deliver it, but in a different way with different rhythms and different characteristics.
CP: What pieces will the symphony be performing?
KD: "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Deck the Halls," "Sleigh Bells," "Jingle Bells," "Bugler's Holiday," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "God Bless Us Everyone" (from Disney's "Christmas Carol"). It will last a little less than two hours, including intermission. There will be activities before the concert for kids before the show, too. It's a really family friendly event.
CP: This is your first year conducting the symphony for this particular concert, since [conductor emeritus] Bob Bernhardt did it the last couple of years. Has it been a pretty easy transition for you to take over?
KD: Yes, and I'm looking forward to it. [Laughs.] Bob is great at these concerts. He's just a personality, and everyone loves him, but he has another obligation next week, so I was asked to do it. I'm really excited about it because I get to conduct in front of people who have probably never seen me conduct before. It's an introduction of myself to a different community, so it's going to be exciting.
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP