The hours of practice and hard work put in by the students of the music department at Highland High School were realized in a fine Winter Concert in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, Dec. 11.
The school’s Jazz Band took to the stage first. Under the direction of band director Joseph Martellaro, the nine-piece group kicked off the concert with an upbeat “Samba Manana,” composed, said Martellaro, by his old friend and fellow musician, Harry Stone.
Tristsan Reynolds on tenor sax and Tommy Curtin on trumpet soloed.
An interesting arrangement of Henry Mancini’s classic “Pink Panther” followed, with Celia Gottlieb soloing on alto sax. The musicians then performed a cool jazz interpretation of “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow” and finished with a selection written by another friend of band director Martellaro’s, Mike Carubia’s rhythmic “Barbecue Sauce,” punctuated with impressive work on the drums by Dan Russo.
The mood became more formal as the Santa-hat-wearing jazz band dressed casually in black were replaced onstage by choir director Lynda Keech’s Chamber Choir; nine young men attired in dress pants, tuxedo shirts and bow ties and eight young women wearing full-length navy blue satin formal dresses, looking lovely against the backdrop of the navy blue curtains of the auditorium.
The Chamber Choir, a smaller subset of the Concert Choir that would close the show, performed a four-song program of holiday music. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” and “Sing We Noel” was followed by “Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Candles), a Hanukkah song in the Ladino (Spanish-derived Sephardic) language. When Keech introduced the number, she cautioned the audience that it might sound like the choir was mispronouncing Spanish, but assured the crowd that wasn’t the case. The repetition in the song was somewhat hypnotic, and with the pleasing vocal variety to it supplied by the Chamber Choir, it left this listener wanting to hear it again. The Chamber Choir finished their portion of the evening with “On With the Snow,” a pretty medley of several of the classic snow-themed Christmas carols.
The show continued with the Concert Band, filling the stage to capacity with some 59 members, including among their number the jazz musicians who’d performed earlier and some of the choir members.
Band director Joseph Martellaro led the group through “Da Vincian Visions” by Larry Clarke. According to material included with the evening’s program, the composition is a tribute to the da Vincian model of creativity: in the same way that da Vinci was known to critique a work from every possible angle, “Da Vincian Visions” uses a theme-and-variation approach to explore one musical theme from varied angles. The piece was complex, feeling like a dramatic movie score in parts, and ably assisted by solos on French horn by Sarah Kassel and the flute of Priyanka Talagadadeevi.
The mood remained dramatic with the performance of the third and fourth movements of Gustav Holst’s “Second Suite in F,” consisting of “Song of the Blacksmith” and “Fantasia on the Dargason,” based on folk songs and rhythmic folk dances. According to the program notes, “Song of the Blacksmith” was meant to evoke the sparks flying from a blacksmith’s anvil as he rhythmically hammers hot metal and “Fantasia” incorporated the English folk song “Dargason” with the Elizabethan love song “Greensleeeves” intertwined into the melody. Soloists for the challenging work included Kelly Stohr on clarinet, Danielle McGrath on trumpet, Ben Ratick on tuba and Celina McAleer on alto sax.
The Concert Band moved into holiday mode with “An Irving Berlin Christmas,” a medley of familiar tunes including White Christmas and Happy Holiday, and closed with “Selections from Brave.”
After a brief intermission to re-set the stage, the 39 members of the Concert Choir came onstage to close the show with holiday selections, “Sing With Joy (from Judas Maccabaeus),” “Home for Christmas,” “Celebration of Light,” “O Bambino” and the rousing finale, “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” The Concert Choir was joined for the final number onstage by two Highland High School choir alumni, Andre Diaz and Frankie Piscopo, who despite being dressed considerably more casually than their counterparts, fit right in vocally with the group.