It will sound a lot like Christmas at Kenai Central High School this weekend. The Redoubt Chamber Orchestra and Kenai Peninsula Singers will join forces for the 2017 Evening of Christmas this Friday.
The groups, which have been performing together at the annual concert for four years, will present holiday favorites such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Holly and the Ivy” and the ever favorite “Hallelujah Chorus.”
The family-friendly concert will also feature a healthy dose of audience participation. There will be several opportunities for attendees to sing along, and audience members can contribute their own jingle bell sounds during the orchestra’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” conductor Tammy Vollom-Matturro said.
“We ask the audience to take up their keys and play them like sleigh bells,” she said.
The first half of the concert, which starts at 7 p.m., will feature only the orchestra. The chorus will join the orchestra for the second half of the show. As a bonus performance, the Kenai Central High School Jazz Band will provide music during the intermission.
“It gives the band another chance to play, and it gives the audience some music to listen to while mingling and enjoying snacks,” Vollom-Matturro said. “It’s a really nice addition to the concert.”
Unity through music
With about 45 members, the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra is open to any musician who wants to play and represents a diverse swath of the community — including professionals, high schoolers and local performers.
“Every profession you can think of is in that orchestra,” Vollom-Matturro said.
The group has existed for nearly two decades and meets weekly to practice. The Christmas concert is its largest fundraiser, and helps the group buy music, rent venues and operate throughout the year, Vollom-Matturro said.
While most of the performers are from the Kenai area, some members will travel from as far away as Anchorage and Homer to participate in the concert this year.
Orchestra member Maria Allison said the audience should expect a good show.
“It’s pretty incredible,” Allison said. “It’s going to be a big production.”
Allison has been performing violin and viola with the orchestra since the group’s inception and has served as the choir accompanist for the Peninsula Singers last four years. She said she often hears surprise when people find out there are musical groups in town. In addition to spotlighting the community’s talent, the concert always brings new awareness about the orchestra and chorus, she said.
Finding a new voice
Kenai Central High choir teacher Simon Nissen founded the Kenai Peninsula Singers four years ago after relocating to the area.
“I wanted to sing in a choir. The opportunity wasn’t really there, and so I decided to just start one, and see if there would be interest,” he said.
As it turns out, there was — 45 people showed up to the first rehearsal. The second rehearsal brought in approximately 80, he said. About 60 members of the choir will perform at Friday’s concert.
The choir will be performing all new music this year. Nissen said he’s particularly excited about performing “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” arranged by Dan Forrest.
“It’s just really expressive and gives the choir and orchestra an opportunity to really emote and tell a story, and it has some really beautiful passages,” Nissen said.
The big night
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the performers happens just hours before the concert, when the two groups will play together for the first time.
“When you have everyone meeting on the stage at 5:30 p.m., it is kind of chaotic,” Vollom-Matturro said. “Everyone has to situate themselves and warm up and tune. It’s sort of like air traffic controlling.”
To counteract any last-minute problems, Nissen and Vollom-Matturro work closely in the weeks before the concert to coordinate the performances of the two groups.
“We spend a lot of time talking about tempos and the pieces we’re conducting,” he said.
As the orchestra has grown over the past decades, the concert has attracted a bigger and bigger audience.
“We’ve had to change venues three times, because audience size keeps growing,” Vollom-Matturro said.
Past years’ concerts have attracted crowds of approximately 500 people — even 800 one year. Vollom-Matturro said she is looking forward to a packed house this year, weather permitting.