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Journey through an enchanting winter wonderland of holiday music from around the world—we’ll hop from Europe to the Caribbean, South Africa, China, and more in a whirlwind exploration of wintertime festivities, vibrant music, and rich holiday traditions from various cultures. All aboard!
Before we embark on our holiday music excursion, join us one hour prior to get festive and cozy with your free elf hat! Then snap a photo at our conductor station, explore our instrument petting zoo, and other fun pre-concert activities!
Holidays Around the World
Sergei Prokofiev (Russia, 1891–1953) wrote the score for the 1933 film Lieutenant Kijé. His music (later turned into a popular concert suite for orchestra) is an affectionate stylistic pastiche of military marches, sentimental popular songs, and so forth. The Troika is a jingling evocation of horse-drawn sleds bearing their well-bundled travelers through the snow.
The 1892 ballet The Nutcracker, by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russia, 1840–93) has become a holiday favorite. The story is a fantasy about a little girl called Clara who, for Christmas, is given a nutcracker in the shape of a man. Today we hear two movements: The Pas de deux from Act II demonstrates Tchaikovsky’s signature emotional style. The March depicts toy soldiers who were given as Christmas presents in the ballet's first scene.
Duke Ellington (USA, 1899–1974) is perhaps the greatest jazz composer of all time. Sometime around 1960 Ellington and his arranger Billy Strayhorn became interested in the idea of adapting classical pieces for Ellington’s jazz orchestra. The “Peanut Brittle Brigade,” is their swinging interpretation of the March from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
Adolphe Adam (France, 1803–56) was a well-regarded composer of opera and ballet, known mainly today for his music for the ballet Giselle and his timeless Christmas song O Holy Night. While the song is very familiar to most of us, we can still revel in the masterful way in which Adam builds to a glorious high point in the final verse.
In addition to being a conductor, Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser is also a composer. During his travels, he heard a wonderful song from South Africa called Hlonolofasta. Hlonolofasta is a South African word that is used to express happiness and to let everyone know they are special. Bartholomew-Poyser’s version for symphony orchestra is exciting and joyful with lots of snappy rhythms and drumming sounds.
Parang, Parang is an example of a Trinidadian type of religious folk music called Parang. This lively calypso-style music, performed by roving bands in the run up to Christmas, is a key part of Trinidadian holiday traditions.
O Chanukah is an energetic telling of the story of Chanukah in song. The song was originally in Yiddish before being translated to English.
Juventino Rosas (Mexico, 1868–94) was a composer and violinist whose most popular work was a waltz called Sobre las Olas (Over the Waves). The piece got its name because the music sounds like a boat gently rocking on the ocean, but it has been played at carnivals and fairs all over the United States. Imagine you are riding up and down on a merry-go-round, listening to this wonderful music.
Gong Xi Gong Xi is a traditional Chinese song, expressing best wishes for the New Year.
Leroy Anderson (USA, 1908–75) composed what was once called, with no sense of irony, “light classics,” engaging tunes such as the perennial holiday favorite, Sleigh Ride. If you like tunes that work their way into your memory and stay there, Leroy Anderson is your man. Bugler’s Holiday is a wonderful showcase for the San Francisco Symphony’s trumpet section.
Pre-concert activities one hour prior