Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Philharmonic back with tradition that really pops

Orchestra will perform five shows at Embassy, others around region

The Phil will play five Holiday Pops shows at Embassy Theatre, as well as one at Honeywell Center and one at T. Furth Music Center.

Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published November 30, 2022

Get ready for the most stupendous annual entertainment tradition in northern Indiana — the Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s beloved Holiday Pops concerts. We’ll try to contain the use of superlative adjectives, but if like thousands of families you have taken yours to see one of these concerts in years past, you’ll understand.

some shows here, some shows there

To warm up and bring the holiday cheer to families west of town, guest conductor Caleb Young took the 75-piece Philharmonic and featured soloist Stephanie Carlson for a run-out performance at Warsaw Community High School on Nov. 29.

In Fort Wayne, beginning Friday, Dec. 9, at the enormous 2,470-seat Embassy Theatre, Young and the orchestra will be giving five truly extravagant performances, featuring internationally renowned jazz, blues, and gospel singer Dee Daniels, 35 singers in the Holiday Pops Chorale, 25 singers from the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, the Fort Wayne Dance Collective’s six tap dancers, Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, and possibly a partridge in a pear tree. There will be two performances at the Embassy on Saturday, Dec. 10.

On Dec. 11, Young, orchestra, and Stephanie Carlson, will do another run-out up north to Trine University in Angola.

Back in Fort Wayne on Friday, Dec. 16, at Auer Performance Hall, will be a different program: Handel’s Messiah in its three-hour entirety with four nationally-renowned soloists and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus and chamber orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Rivera.

Then Young, Daniels, and the full production will be back at the Embassy for two concerts on Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 17-18.

The tour wraps up Tuesday, Dec. 20, with Young and the full Holiday Pops production at the Honeywell Center in Wabash. 

all your holiday favorites

Young, a Berlin resident and frequent flyer, is effusive about picking up the baton for Holiday Pops again. 

“It’s one of the greatest traditions that Fort Wayne has,” he said in an interview with Whatzup. “I’m excited to be back on it, because what we try and do is collaborate with as many different musical groups as possible in Fort Wayne. We have the choirs, we bring in some professional singers from Chicago. We have our dancers. We are bringing in headlining soloist Dee Daniels, and we have a massive orchestra.

“We see families come every year, and it’s something that everyone looks forward to,” he added. “It really feels like the city shows up for these concerts, and it’s something that I’ve missed doing during the pandemic. I’m just so happy that we are back into it in full swing. It’s something that’s a real honor to be a part of.”

Young gets more and more animated as he reels off descriptions of the many pieces in this program.

“Well, there’s a couple things that the audiences have grown to love and expect to hear,” he said. “Obviously we’re putting in ‘Sleigh Ride’ (Anderson and Parish, 1948). We’re doing this brilliant piece called ‘Santa Tap’ that features the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Messiah. And once I plug those pieces in there, I ask myself, ‘OK, what is the guest artist bringing?

“Dee Daniels is a world-class artist that sings so many different styles. It’s going to be something that’s very fresh to this show. We haven’t had a jazz or gospel singer with us before on this program. With Dee, we will be playing full-on jazz charts with jazz brass and a drum set wailing away.”

Daniels is bringing a number of traditional Christmas carols set by contemporary pops arranger Jeff Tyzik, a favorite of Young’s. 

“Jeff is an institution,” Young said. “All of his arrangements are just complete showstoppers.

“And then I ask myself, ‘OK, what else are we missing?”

Well, he’s Young, so he’s going to bring something from his world-famous mentor, blockbuster composer John Williams. 

“Let’s put in some film music that everyone knows,” he said. 

These pieces use the mighty Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus. 

“I have some Home Alone (‘Somewhere in My Memory,’ 1990), which brings out all nostalgic feelings of the holidays. I also have some Polar Express (‘Believe,’ by Alan Silvestri, 2004).”

Another favorite is composer Carmen Dragon’s arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (circa 1964). Dragon brings “the Hollywood sound, the NBC Orchestra sound. We love that kind of sound in the Fort Wayne Phil, especially in this concert.”

A gem that’s special to Fort Wayne is “Lightsongs,” a Hanukkah medley arranged by the Philharmonic’s principal bass player Adrian Mann, who is celebrating his 50th anniversary with the orchestra. 

Now that calls for superlative adjectives.

something old, something new

Perhaps the most overdone, overwrought, yet beloved piece in the Christmas canon is the blowout chorale from the middle of Handel’s Messiah. But Young insists, “You’ve never heard me do the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ I dare say it might be the freshest Hallelujah Chorus you’ll hear. I like to perform the piece with the rawness that you would’ve heard if you were at the first performance (in 1741).” Well, that’s not superlative; that’s downright audacious.

“And then I always like to drop in one or two pieces that I know people are not going to be familiar with, because I think that it’s my responsibility to expose people to some new music” that they haven’t heard before.

Chief among those is “Dance of the Tumblers” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s fantasy opera The Snow Maiden (1882). Then there’s a new string orchestra arrangement of Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” (1994) which is a setting of one of the most ancient Christmas hymns of all — a thousand years old.

The show closes with “something that I haven’t actually conducted before, ‘Merry Christmas’ from John Williams’ Home Alone,” Young said. “It’s a nice way to end the program because it comes right after the sing-along. Everyone will be singing with us.”

Rather than just read our paltry descriptions, you and your family have ample opportunities to take in this superlative extravaganza, listen to the marvelous music, and share in the exquisite holiday cheer. 

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