The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s esteemed Holiday Pops series is an essential feature of many Hoosiers’ holiday celebrations.
Planning and steering the series is no easy task. For several years, that task has fallen to associate conductor Caleb Young.
Patrons expect new things, but they don’t want anyone to mess around with any of the old things.
“It’s a very delicate balance that you have to navigate as a conductor,” he told Whatzup.
Balance of old and new
Thankfully, Young is adept at these sorts of delicate balances. He is bringing in Doug LaBrecque as this year’s featured performer.
“He is an absolute legend in the musical theater world,” Young said. “He was in many major productions, including Phantom [of the Opera]. So we’re excited to have him. That brings a level of artistry that’s really world class, what you would expect to hear in major, big cities.”
Young said LaBrecque brings his own specialty charts so it’s an experience that can be enjoyed nowhere else.
There will be tap dancing and ballroom dancing sequences and Mr. Claus will make an appearance.
“We will really have a little bit of everything,” Young said. “It’s going to be quite a diverse show from a musical standpoint and a visual standpoint.”
“Twelve Days of Christmas” will be presented as an audience participation piece.
“We take volunteers from the audience to sing solos during this piece,” Young said. “It’s such a riot because we have people who are more musically inclined than others. We try to encourage everyone to participate and have a good time. It just ends up being a thrill for the audience and the orchestra both.”
Broad Range of music
Christmas means classic selections from what has been dubbed “The Great American Songbook.”
The Holiday Pops series has those, of course, but it also has rarer, yet no less recognizable, music. This year, suites from the films It’s a Wonderful Life and Home Alone will be performed. And there’s plenty of sacred Christmas music as well, beloved by believers and nonbelievers alike at this time of year.
“I like to have a nice mix of sacred and secular music,” Young said, “because there’s so many different aspects to the holidays and I think it’s important to represent every angle possible.
“There’s music that everyone will be able to connect to. It’s just a good feeling kind of night. Of course, the ‘Hallelujah chorus’ has a singalong and (Leroy Anderson’s) ‘Sleigh Ride’ — we’re salting and peppering the new and the old.”
A good example of the way Young deftly straddles lines between tradition and invention, comfort and surprise, is the opening number: It’s a new arrangement of the ancient English carol “I Saw Three Ships (Come Sailing In).”
“When I aim to program and curate these programs,” he said, “I like to put in the mix some pieces that are not necessarily so traditional and which give the orchestra something to sink their teeth into.”
Young likens this version of “I Saw Three Ships” to a layer cake.
“That’s a really beefy piece that’s exciting and high-energy that will open the concert,” he said.
New LED Lighting
All these staged astonishments will benefit greatly from the recent addition of a new lighting system at the Embassy.
It’s a 100 percent LED system, according to Scott Stolarz, chief programming officer for the theater.
Stolarz said the new system is more energy conscious and economical when compared to “just having an absurd amount of light bulbs floating around.”
The new system is exactly the sort of thing that lighting experts expect to find in the most prominent theaters in the largest cities across the country, he said.
“This is what everybody wants to see if you’re a touring show,” Stolarz said. “It’s really allowed us to up our game.”
An upped game means the addition of themed lighting effects.
“They’re a staple of rock shows,” Stolarz said. “We weren’t really able to do that. All the moving, automated lights? We did not have that. Now we have a top-of-the-line system that allows us to go out and do that.”
Maybe the best thing about this — at least from the perspective of those who get a thrill when area arts organizations thrive — is that it was paid for with pure Embassy profit. Stolarz said the project needed no additional fundraising.
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