In 2003, the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra held its first “Evening of Christmas” concert at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna in front of an audience of 100 or 150.
The show has gotten so big that this year there will be a performance Friday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium in Kenai before a similar show is performed Saturday in Anchorage.
After starting at Christ Lutheran Church, the show eventually moved to Kenai Christian Church, which can hold about 340.
The next big move came in 2014, when Simon Nissen arrived to teach choir at Kenai Central High School. Nissen started the Kenai Peninsula Singers and they joined the show. In order to accommodate all the singers, the event was moved to the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium and started drawing an audience of more than 800.
“When I came here, I was looking for a choir to sing in and I couldn’t find one, so I started one,” Nissen said.
The Kenai Peninsula Singers were added under the umbrella of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra rehearses in Ninilchik, includes mostly Homer and central peninsula musicians, and numbers about 70.
In 2000, the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra was formed when a group of Kenai Peninsula Orchestra musicians started rehearsing on the central peninsula. The group, which usually numbers about 40, rehearses from September through the holidays before the players shift back to the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.
The Redoubt Chamber Orchestra has two big shows — “Evening of Classics” in October and “Evening of Christmas.” The Kenai Peninsula Singers join the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra for the big Christmas show that has come to serve as a major fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra.
The new wrinkle this year will be some members of the Anchorage Civic Orchestra joining the Kenai show. Then Saturday, the Kenai Peninsula Singers and some Redoubt Chamber Orchestra members will put on a holiday show with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.
“People like being able to sing Christmas carols with us,” Redoubt Chamber Orchestra conductor Tammy Vollom-Matturro said of the reason for the show’s growing popularity. “They feel this is the first real kickoff for Christmas.
“You start hearing some Christmas songs before Halloween so you become immune to it after a while. But walking in and hearing it live makes it a very special experience.”
The first half of the show features the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra and Anchorage Civic Orchestra. The orchestras will play popular sing-a-longs like “Sleigh Ride.”
“You have to do ‘Sleigh Ride,’” Vollom-Matturro, also the choir teacher at Kenai Middle School, said. “Bottom line. You have to do it.”
The orchestras also will break from Christmas standards, performing “Fantasia on We Three Kings” by Brian Balmages and “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.”
Vollom-Matturro said “Fantasia” is a beautiful piece of music that features every section. “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” was originally released on “Dead Winter Dead,” the 1995 album of the heavy metal band Savatage. It was re-released by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which includes several Savatage members.
“It’s a little on the rock side,” Vollom-Matturro said. “It’s a great piece.”
For the piece, tuba player Sterling Strickler moves to electric bass, violin player Jack Will plays the electric guitar and Raven Patrick pounds the drums.
Intermission features live Christmas jazz from the KCHS jazz band, under the direction of Deborah Sounart.
The Kenai Peninsula Singers then join the party, performing familiar songs like “The First Noel,” “Ring Those Christmas Bells,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Nissen said that listeners will hear all of the above for the first time, thanks to creativity by arrangers and composers.
“We sometimes overhear Christmas carols,” Nissen said. “It’s exciting to see arrangers and composers that have a new vision of them.”
Next comes “Glow,” written for Walt Disney’s “World of Color – Winter Dreams.”
Both Nissen and Vollom-Matturro said it is very different than anything else that will be played Friday night. Nissen added the piece is challenging for everyone, calling it ethereal and textured rather than melodic.
“Nobody is going to leave humming it,” he said.
The performers will then unearth the traditional English “Sussex Carol” before moving to the grand finale. Here, the audience and performers all join together in the “Hallelujah Chorus” from George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”
“Simon is conducting the choral pieces, but I get to conduct the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’” Vollom-Matturro said. “I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to stand up, do that, give that cutoff at the last note and go, ‘Wow.’”
Friday’s show in Kenai starts at 7 p.m., with $15 general admission and a $25 family rate available at the door the day of the concert. Saturday’s Anchorage show is 4 p.m. at the Sydney Laurence Theatre, with prices of $23.50 for regular admission, $17.75 for seniors and $14.75 for youth. Tickets are available at alaskapac.centertix.net.