Entertainment

Okanagan Symphony Orchestra waxes poetic for Christmas

There is no doubt spoken word has returned to the forefront when the symphony is pointing to the art form as inspiration for its annual Christmas concert.

Perhaps it is the beatnik poet resurgence embedded in the hipster revival.  Perhaps it is the Okanagan College creative writing program’s success in producing a group of artists interested in staying in the valley and engaging with poetry. Or maybe it is UBC-O’s focus on including spoken word in its events.

Whatever the reason, centering the OSO’s concert around spoken word and narration promises the most broad-based appeal. However, there will be old-fashioned Christmas carolling in the mix.

“We just don’t sing in our culture anymore,” said music director Rosemary Thomson. “We used to gather around the piano, now it’s more like we gather around Guitar Hero. So it’s nice to give people a chance to really sing together as a group.”

The Cleland Theatre in Penticton does make quite the stage for a group sing-along; particularly, when the music is Christmas carols, so everyone knows the words.

Add a little storytelling, some Dylan Thomas prose and a poetic touch and it should make for a concert to remember.

Last year this performance was narrated by CBC’s Marion Barschel, host of Daybreak South for a decade, and brought the animated British film The Snowman to life against a backdrop of jazz music.

The poetic element to this year’s program comes from Thomson’s memory of her father listening to the The Gift of the Magi, as delivered by the late Alan Maitland on CBC Radio.

The story is of a young married couple who don’t have the money to buy much for Christmas, but still manage to find each other secret Christmas gifts, though their plans are disturbed by a hitch. Paired musically with The March of the Three Kings, the story will be read by Alan Corbishley.

A multi-platform artist based out of Kamloops, Corbishley performed Mozart’s Requiem with the orchestra last year and consequently was asked back for this special project.

Though he spends most of his time in opera as a baritone, when he’s not producing arts festivals, he started his career in theatre and is looking forward to adding both a musical lilt and his own dramatic touch to this material.

“This is not just standard Christmas fare; there is real poetry to this,” said Corbishley, who has worked internationally but returned to work with Western Canada Theatre in Kamloops.

Joining him on stage will be a soundscape of young Okanagan voices as the Okanagan Youth Chorus gets rolling for its first season.

Included in the concert are choir members from Rutland and Kelowna Secondary Schools, Penticton Secondary School, Kalamalka and Seaton Secondary Schools in Vernon, and Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna.

The repertoire will be challenging for the young singers, particularly for two students selected as soloists from Alexandra Babble Studio. Soprano Alexia Hildebrandt and tenor Derik Widmer have been on Thomson’s radar for some time and their voices should lend youthful zest to the evening.

The annual Christmas concert begins at 7 p.m. and runs straight to 8:30 p.m. without intermission, so little ones can attend, and includes a good deal of audience participation.

Christmas Reflections with Alan Corbishley and the Okanagan Symphony Youth Chorus runs in Penticton at the Cleland Theatre on Dec. 21.

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