Untraditional Holiday Fare

KSO pairs with the Knoxville Choral Society for the premiere of local composer James Carlson's Hodie Christus natus est

The music of holiday concerts always seems a bit like a meal at a favorite old diner—full of warmth, comfort, and familiarity, and served just the way you remember it, a place to return to again and again. But is there room on the menu for something new and intriguing along with all the traditional holiday fare? The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra thinks so.

KSO will be adding a new original work to its holiday list this year: The world premiere performance of Hodie Christus natus est, a work for chorus and orchestra by local composer James R. Carlson, as part of A Holiday Peace, the 22nd Annual Clayton Holiday Concert.

Carlson wrote the piece in 2007 as a possible work for the Knoxville Choral Society, which performs with the KSO in the annual holiday concerts, to use as its choir showcase work on the concert. "Nothing happened last year," Carlson admits. "So I just let it ride. I knew [KCS Artistic Director] Eric Thorson had it and was supporting it. So I just waited. And it came up this year, sort of out of the blue."

Carlson offers a few tantalizing clues as to the nature of this new piece: "It has a fanfare-ish opening, a rhythmic multi-meter fast section, and then a sweeping, lyrical middle section. It works its way out through those themes. And it's concise." The choral text of the work is a pairing of the traditional Latin "Hodie Christus natus est" and a traditional medieval English carol, "Jesu, as Thou Art Our Saviour."

Carlson, who is a visiting assistant professor of music at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., may be known to Knoxville audiences through Art Moves, a music and dance production at the Knoxville Museum of Art, as well as a performance series at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. His previous works for various small ensemble and vocal combinations reveal a style that is decidedly contemporary, but refreshingly lyrical and accessible.

Balancing the newness of the Carlson piece on the concert will be the expected musical feast of both traditional secular and religious works. Of particular note on the bill for the Choral Society will be a performance of "There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob" from an unfinished oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn, and one from a definitely finished oratorio by George Frideric Handel, the "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Messiah. In addition to the orchestral and choral forces of the KSO and the KCS, the Appalachian Ballet, fresh off their Knoxville Nutcracker performances this month, will be providing dance movement to accompany a few of the selections: an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" from his cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben; the very contemporary "Jingle Bell Rock"; and "Carol of the Bells."

The concert's performing forces will also include the Sound Company Children's Choir, a performing arts ensemble of children from Oak Ridge and the surrounding area. They will perform Maestro Lucas Richman's arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Dona Nobis Pacem" by the prolific composers of music for children Mary Donnelly and George Strid.

To open the second half of the program, Richman has arranged a medley of Hanukkah melodies which will feature a guest soloist, soprano Shira Adler. To follow the "Hanukkah Medley," Adler, known for her interfaith music performances, will also sing Franz Schubert's Ave Maria. She returns to the stage a bit later, joined by the full choruses and orchestra, to sing a Mark Hayes arrangement of the poignant "Let There Be Peace on Earth" by Jill Jackson and Sy Miller.

Although not totally unsurprising for a holiday concert, there is an unsubstantiated rumor that a distinguished gentleman sporting distinctive red attire and an exceptionally fine voice will be making a special appearance.