The Punta Gorda Symphony performed a combined five lively hours of holiday pops music to multiple standing ovations Dec. 15 before afternoon and evening audiences at the Charlotte Performing Arts Center in Punta Gorda.
It was a kaleidoscopic array of symphonic salutes to the season, ranging from traditional Christmas and Hanukkah holiday classics to humorous musical takeoffs on “The Night Before Christmas” and “Twelve Days of Christmas,” to Leroy Anderson’s iconic seasonal immortal, “Sleigh Ride.”
There were no bells jingling, or any reindeer in sight, but Maestro Raffaele Ponti and the orchestra produced a constantly changing electric holiday musical mix.
Guest artist Broadway baritone Jacob Waid enchanted the audiences with a soaring “Ave Maria,” also singing “The Twelve Gifts of Christmas,” and narrating “Another Night Before Christmas.”
They weren’t the usual 12 gifts, including instead “a glockenspiel and a bell tree,” “two clarinets,” “three French Horns, “four double reeds,” “five golden strings,” and “six mellow cellos.”
“Another Night Before Christmas“ was arranged by British composer Philip Lane from a text by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. It’s about a woman who meets an old man on a park bench who claims to be Santa Claus. It involves a touching, symphonic musical battle between cynicism and belief at Christmas.
One highlight that brought a long, loud, standing ovation was concertmaster Ming Gao’s overpowering solo performance, backed by the orchestra, of “Fantasia on We Three Kings.”
Another riveting moment was the orchestra’s full force performance of “Symph-Hanukkah,” arranged by Peter Jaffe, music director of the Stockton Symphony. It’s a dance-like up tempo celebratory performance of a medley of Jewish music. The Punta Gorda Symphony is one of the first orchestras to perform it.
Ponti always comes up with something really different for the orchestra’s holiday pops performances.
This year it was the madcap, frenzied fortissimo “Mad Russian’s Christmas.”
But there were the classics as well – “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “The First Noel,” “Carol of the Bells,” and nostalgic venture through “Christmas at the Movies.”
The final piece, “Sleigh Ride,” was a new Ponti production as well. In introducing it, Ponti, with a straight face, proclaimed how difficult it is to conduct a symphony orchestra, and that they just can’t perform without his direction.
With his back to the orchestra, he assured the audience, “It’s just not like snapping your fingers,” which he did, resulting in the orchestra going full tilt into “Sleigh Ride” behind his back. He “stalked” off the stage in an “outrage,” only to reappear, with Waid, running up and down the aisles, throwing candy canes to the audience.
The final ovation just about shook the building.