By Jay Harvey
Growth into larger venues has made the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s annual “Festival of Carols” concert also a vehicle for artistic growth. Concertgoers will hear the likes of “Believe” (from Polar Express) as well as “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
For the first time, in the choir’s 24th year, there will be four performances of the program.
For much of its history, “Festival of Carols” was situated in area churches, but it soon outgrew them. The Scottish Rite Cathedral represented its first venture into a concert hall several years ago. “That’s when it took off, “ said Eric Stark, the choir’s artistic director for the past dozen years.
Moving out of churches encouraged an expansion of the repertoire, drawing larger audiences. “When I started thinking of what we were going to do, my imagination went down a different path,” Stark said, resulting in “an increase of secular and popular kinds of things. We had done carols and anthems in a church setting.” The increase in family attendance, he added, with children needing to have their shorter attention spans addressed, helped spur more wide-ranging programming.
“The public has enjoyed it more and more,” tenor Eric Oehler confirmed. “The eclectic mix of music makes it fun and serious at the same time — sacred works, some funny stuff.”
“There’s always a fun piece,” said ISC member Julie Paavola, who like Oehler, lives in Carmel.“ And there are pieces that are just beautiful. This concert helps with getting ready for the holidays and the festiveness of it all.”
“It’s a unique kind of animal artistically,” said Stark. “When I’m picking the repertoire I know the audience is going to be familiar with a lot of it. I like to have a new setting [of a familiar piece]or an updated arrangement.”
Except for a few a cappella selections, the choir will again be working with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Also returning will be soprano soloist Maria Jette, known nationally for appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion” and as a participant in the public-radio show’s cruises. Young and old concertgoers alike can look forward to hearing her and the choir in a new arrangement of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
Other highlights Stark mentioned include one of the popular suites Robert Russell Bennett and Robert Shaw put together under the title “The Many Moods of Christmas” and a familiar sacred piece by J.S. Bach, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
“‘Festival of Carols’ is one of my favorite moments in the year, “ Stark said. “There’s such an enthusiasm publicly for music making and the choir, and a certain kind of familiarity to the proceedings. People love hearing a good choir, and this is an activity that can become a tradition for them.”
Given its history of concert sellouts requiring expansion of the schedule, “Festival of Carols” appears to be going beyond holiday entertainment. As Stark has noted, for many families it’s moving into the special category of holiday tradition.
What: “Festival of Carols”
Who: Indianapolis Symphonic Choir and soloist Maria Jette, with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 7, 8 p.m. Dec. 20, 3 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21.
Where: Scottish Rite Cathedral (Dec. 7), The Palladium (Dec. 20 and 21).
Tickets: $20-$35 (Scottish Rite), $25-$38 (Palladium), www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org, www.indychoir.org.