The combination of strings and voices returns tonight for the 17th annual “Evening of Christmas” concert in Kenai.
A fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, the evening features the Redoubt Chamber Orchestra and the Kenai Peninsula Singers in what KPO director Tammy Vollom-Matturro calls one of the most highly anticipated music events on the peninsula.
“It’s always one of our most popular concerts, it’s always well-attended,” Vollom-Matturro said. “Every year I try to throw in a couple pieces that are challenging for the orchestra.”
Vollom-Matturro leads the orchestra, while Kenai Central High School choir teacher Simon Nissen will head up the singing. Nissen founded the Kenai Peninsula Singers six years ago and in the first year joined the KPO for “Evening of Christmas.”
“So many people have such a strong nostalgia tied to holiday music,” Nissen said. “It takes them back to their childhood or time in their life where they were celebrating Christmas with certain people. It’s something familiar and comfortable.”
The annual holiday concert started off small in 2000 with the name “Evening of Classics,” according to Vollom-Matturo, who said the event grew in size. Originally held at the Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna, the concert moved to Kenai Christian Church, and now calls the 800-plus seat Renee C. Henderson Auditorium home in order to satisfy demand.
“A lot of people say this concert is the kickoff to their holiday season,” she said. “That’s a big compliment to everyone doing it.”
The evening promises a mix of traditional Christmas songs and newer tunes, and the fusion of strings instruments and voices is what drives it all.
“It’s a perfect blending of familiar and new,” Vollom-Matturro said. “And yes, we are doing ‘Sleigh Ride’, so you can take out your keys and jingle along with it.”
Nissen said the ensemble brings together 60 choir voices, composed of singers of all ages from around the central peninsula.
“The orchestra is always excited to hear the choir, and the choir is ecstatic to hear the orchestra,” Nissen said. “It brings a different level to both groups for sure. It’s robust.”
Vollom-Matturro said the orchestra opens the first half of the concert, starting with the overture that different traditional Christmas songs, followed by a singalong that the audience is encouraged to join in on.
The second half is when the choir joins in, starting with an arrangement of “Silent Night” that Vollom-Matturro said is “absolutely stunning.”
“I’ve never heard anything like it,” she said. “I think that’s kind of the draw of this concert, it’s beautiful.”
Then there are the older carols, as Nissen put it, including “Carol to the King,” which is an older French piece, “Brightest and Best,” an old American hymn with a bluegrass feel, and then “Jingle Bell Rondo,” which Nissen explained incorporates the old familiar tune with a Mozart work.
Finally, the evening ends with the entire auditorium, audience included, standing up to sing “Hallelujah,” which Nissen said is an experience to take in.
“Evening of Christmas” begins Friday at 7 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium. Admission is $15 and ages 18 and under get in free.