On Scene: Orchestra chops impressive | SteamboatToday.com

On Scene: Orchestra chops impressive

Margaret Hair

— I am picky about performances of “Sleigh Ride.”

This probably comes from years of performing the Leroy Anderson song in at least three holiday concerts each season, because you can’t have a holiday concert without “Sleigh Ride.” And it has to be Anderson’s arrangement, the one that gets all brassy around the two-minute mark, when it gives the melody to the trumpets and a stage-band brass line to the trombones.

Going into the Steamboat Springs Orchestra’s holiday concert, I planned to judge the overall quality of the program by how the ensemble played “Sleigh Ride.” It’s definitely not the most reasonable way to judge a classical music performance. But I really like that song.

It’s probably safe to guess that almost every member of the orchestra has played “Sleigh Ride” in five times more holiday concerts than I have. And for an orchestra of its size, the group handled the song perfectly, with a two-man trombone section filling out that little big-band breakdown. The adorable addition of children from the audience to play auxiliary percussion didn’t hurt.

So far this season, the Steamboat Springs Orchestra hasn’t taken on anything it can’t handle. As the orchestra has edged away from being a community group to being a professional ensemble during the past few years, it’s played on the talents of its principal players and music director to take on increasingly difficult repertoire and to do it well.

That held up in Sunday’s concert, which opened with Haydn’s “Sinfonie Concertante.” As a showpiece for Teresa Steffen Greenlee (violin), John Sant’Ambrogio (cello), Tenly Williams (oboe) and John Fairlie (bassoon), “Sinfonie” highlighted the unexpected but impressive level of classical music chops living in Steamboat Springs. After sitting in on a rehearsal with three of the four soloists, I knew their parts wouldn’t be a problem. What impressed me Sunday was the ease with which the rest of the orchestra blended into those solo parts without overpowering them.

Music director Ernest Richardson rounded out the rest of the holiday program with a trio of seasonal compositions by Matthew Naughtin. Local drama buff Michael Brumbaugh stepped in to narrate “The Night Before Christmas” on Naughtin’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The purposefully goofy performance was a cheery reminder that no matter how professional the orchestra gets, it’ll show its Steamboat roots.

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