Same holiday treat, new twists

Orchestra, 250 voices combine under direction of new music faculty

Kansas University's annual Holiday Vespers is a tradition 78 years in the making.

This year, it keeps many of its traditional features, like audience singalongs of popular carols. But the concert will take on a slightly different flavor under the direction of the new director of choral activities, John Paul Johnson.

"In years past, the way it was usually set up was each of the individual choirs did something by themselves, then one or two together," Johnson said. "I'm changing that quite a bit in that all the choirs are performing together, so it's much more like a symphonic choir."

The program should have a more even-paced feeling to it as well, Johnson said, because he and KU Symphony Orchestra conductor Timothy Hankewich will be the only conductors. In past Vespers, seven or eight conductors often were involved, Johnson said.

Some 250 voices will combine for this year's concert. Vespers brings together the University of Kansas choral groups and the Symphony Orchestra for a performance that includes classic and contemporary seasonal music. Audience participation is part of the tradition.

"This is a tradition I knew of even before I ever applied for the job," said Johnson, who assumed his duties at KU in August. "KU Holiday Vespers are famous all around the United States, and they're part of what drew me to come here. It's just great to be part of the choral tradition here."

He said he had been listening to people in the community talk about what they like and don't like about Vespers.

"I've really listened very closely to people and tried to make it very entertaining and, I don't want to say fast-paced, but it has an even pacing about it," Johnson said. "I think people will notice there's a real theme going on."

The centerpiece of the evening will be the dramatic staging of several scenes from "Amahl and the Night Visitors," written in 1951 by Gian Carlo Menotti. Joining traditional holiday favorites like "We Three Kings," "Christmas Day" and "Jingle Bell Rock" will be "On This Day the Earth Shall Ring" and "Winter" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

The concert also will include "Ose Shalom," based on traditional Hebrew text; "Bethelehemu," a Nigerian Christmas song; and the gospel spiritual "Go Where I Send Thee."

The finale, Randol Bass' "Gloria," was premiered by the Boston Pops Tanglewood Chorus.

Kansas University choirs and the KU Symphony Orchestra will present the 78th annual Holiday Vespers at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Lied Center. Tickets for the matinee performance are sold out but are still available for the evening show. Tickets are $12.50 and $10. They are available at the Lied Center, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall, 864-3982; or SUA, 864-3477.

Two original compositions by KU faculty members also will be featured: "Gracious Creator" by Charles Hoag and "The Christmas Silence" by Scott Watson, both professors of music and dance. KU's barbershop quartet and members of the KU Percussion Ensemble will make special appearances.

Early arrivals will be treated to singing by the Women's Chorale, Men's Glee Club and the Instrumental Collegium Musicum in the Lied Center lobby before the 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. concerts. Tandy Reussner will perform two free pre-Vespers organ concerts at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at Bales Organ Recital Hall.


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