So you've done the Sing-along "Messiah," you're not quite ready to go caroling in the streets, and you want a jolt of holiday spirit you can take your family (or a date) to that's fun, classy AND inclusive? Then head on over to the beautiful Paramount Theater in Oakland for the most joyous, raise-the-roof celebration of all the winter holidays, the Oakland East Bay Symphony's Let Us Break Bread Together concert on Sunday, December 13.
When Michael Morgan took over the Oakland East Bay Symphony 20 years ago, it was his mission not only to revive a community treasure that had gone bankrupt, but to make sure it didn't happen again by making the Paramount the place to be on concert nights for all of Oakland. This meant reaching out to members of the community who might never have been to a symphony concert before, or had never even thought about going, and then helping them feel welcome once they got there. This is something that Michael is very, very good at, and he's proven it in the Symphony's success over the last two decades.
This is the 18th year that Morgan and the Symphony have celebrated the holidays with their Let Us Break Bread Together concert, and it's one of the highlights of the holiday season in the East Bay. It's a simple concept -- embrace the whole community by adding African-American, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox music to the usual "classical" holiday fare, and then stepping back and letting the audience take over when they realize how much fun they're having with the whole, eclectic mix. This year's guests include the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, the awesome klezmer band Kugelplex, women's vocal ensemble , and the renowned Mt. Eden High School Concert Choir. Even Scrooge will be dancing in the aisles -- and my family and I will be there with him! Let Us Break Bread Together at 4pm, Sunday, December 13, 2009 at the Paramount Theater in Oakland. For tickets and information visit oebs.org.
And if you want to keep that multi-culti-with-a-twist holiday feeling after the concert, check out some of my favorite non-traditional classical holiday CDs:
In 1986, when "classical crossover" was still a nebulous (and usually not-very-well-executed concept), record producer Warren Schatz put the Hampton String Quartet together with some tasty arrangements of holiday pop tunes, and created a best-seller, called What if Mozart Wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas?" What made the tunes work was that they weren't just elevator-music covers of the songs, they were all actually arranged in the styles of composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Grieg. This year, Schatz re-arranged the tunes for string orchestra, re-titling it What if Mozart Wrote "White Christmas?" and added a couple of new tunes that weren't on the first disc. Both albums are a blast -- but why does Beethoven look so much like John Belushi?
Another brilliant concept: connect Tchaikovsky's soulful and rocking ballet music with the soulful and rocking sounds of klezmer. And does it ever work! Shirim is a smokin' klezmer band from Boston that has been giving concerts on December 25th for years, with the Klezmer Nutcracker as a highlight. "The Dance of the Latkes Queens?" "Waltz of the Ruggelah?" "Kozatsky 'til You Dropsky?" You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll plotz. (And by the way, check out Kugelplex's version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
If there had been radios in 1741, Handels' "Messiah" would have been on top of the charts. So it makes sense that Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration would be conceived to fit right into the "Quiet Storm" format that was just becoming popular. With folks like Al Jarreau, Patti Austin and Stevie Wonder taking part, it settles right into a smooth jazz groove, retaining just enough Handel to make things interesting. Don't miss the big smooth jazz/gospel jam on the "Hallelujah" chorus.
A Chung King Christmas is flat-out my favorite goofball Christmas album ever. It's already a bizarre idea -- popular Christmas songs played by a traditional Chinese band -- and the arrangements range from the inspired to the apocalyptically cheesy (you haven't truly lived until you've heard the er-hu-with-wedding-band version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"), but it does prove that -- one way or another -- Christmas really does make the whole world go 'round.