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'Jingle Bell Doc' is one blowout holiday show

By Rob Hubbard

Special to the Pioneer Press

Article Last Updated: 12/20/2008 01:39:56 AM CST

If your ideal Christmas concert is something subdued, simple and solemn, then this weekend's Minnesota Orchestra pops programs are definitely not for you. The orchestra's longtime pops conductor, Doc Severinsen, has returned to town to lead an extravaganza as flamboyant as his eye-popping wardrobe.

On Friday night, the Minnesota Orchestra was one of five ensembles on stage for arrangements of Christmas music that swung, swooned, soothed and skipped along pleasantly. The groups crowding the stage of Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall traded tunes when they weren't collaborating, giving the concert the flavor of a holiday buffet. And thanks to Severinsen's enthusiastic leadership (and ebullient boosterism), it proved to be an entertaining blockbuster of a concert.

When the orchestra wasn't lending its sumptuous sound to some lush arrangement of a seasonal song, the Minnesota Chorale was hypnotizing with its harmonies. Or Twin Cities Bronze was filling the hall with the sound of hand bells. Or Stillwater's Ascension Youth Choir was reminding everyone of the special quality children's voices bring to carols. Or, perhaps most enjoyably, Severinsen was bopping along with a big band, scaling the peaks of his trumpet's range.

While the results were always admirable when Severinsen let one of the ensembles strut its stuff, the concert was at its most thrilling when the assembled multitudes joined forces. A John Rutter arrangement of "Deck the Halls" was a fine forum for the Minnesota Chorale's talents, but passing the tune off to the bebopping big band was a welcome choice, too.

Other impressive performances came when the Minnesota Chorale's leader, Kathy Saltzman Romey, took the podium for a lovely arrangement of "What Child is This?" And when Severinsen's solo trumpet soared atop the orchestra on "O Holy Night," his high notes proved as exciting as back in his days leading the "Tonight Show" orchestra.

A pretty straight reading of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah" proved a full-voiced finale for what had the air of one last big musical blowout on the holiday calendar.

Rob Hubbard is an associate producer for American Public Media's "Performance Today."