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Christmas concert won't be same old pops parade.

Byline: FRED CRAFTS The Register-Guard

GIANCARLO Guerrero's idea of a holly, jolly Christmas is playing those good old tunes by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, George Chadwick, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Johann Sebastian Bach.

"Christmas Eve" Suite, "Jubilee," "Christen, atzet diesen Tag" and Fantasia on "Greensleeves" may not light up the air waves the way "White Christmas" and "Jingle Bells" do, but they nonetheless melt Guerrero's heart.

"I thought of doing `Sleigh Ride' and the usual Christmas tunes," the new Eugene Symphony conductor said, "but I gave that one up very quickly because they are not all that interesting. I mean, it's fun to hear but, for this orchestra, it doesn't really offer much of a challenge to perform."

"Remember that I am very much into this idea of taking the orchestra to the next level," Guerrero said, explaining what was on his mind as he planned his first Eugene Christmas concert, which will take place Friday. "So, I decided to find repertoire that would, first of all, bring audiences into the hall and, second of all, be good for the orchestra to play but, thirdly and most importantly, go along with the festivities of Christmas."

"I wanted to do something with our chorus before we use it next spring'' for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem (April 10), Guerrero said. ``A short enough choral piece would be a Bach cantata. This is a Bach-loving town. I was privileged to be at the Oregon Bach Festival this past summer. I completely fell in love with Bach again, because I heard it done so well here. I thought, `Why wait until next summer?' ''

Finding the right Bach cantata wasn't easy.

"I have to be honest," Guerrero said. "I didn't know any of the `Christmas' cantatas. I had heard about them, but I had never heard them. I had to go out and buy recordings. I actually bought the Helmuth Rilling recordings. To me, Helmuth Rilling is a true Bach performer. I truly, truly admire him. When I heard the recordings, I decided on Cantata No. 63, which is `Christians, Rejoice on this day.' ''

Written for performance on Christmas Day in Weimar in either 1714 or 1715, the flashy work calls for four trumpets, timpani and three oboes in addition to the standard Baroque string orchestra - large forces for Bach.

The festive cantata begins and ends with two extended choral movements; the inner sections are duets or recitatives. Bach liked the work, and repeated it often.

"The entire movement has that message of joy," Guerrero said. " `Having arrived at the end of the year, let's look back and reflect, and see that maybe things are not as bad as we thought they were. There are many, many things to feel good about.' Even if you are not of the Christian faith, the message of rejoicing is something we all, as human beings, can relate to. That's what I hope, at the end, people get out of it - that feeling of real pride and joy about where we live. There's no way you cannot come in and have a smile when you hear the first note of the cantata."

Besides the Eugene Symphony Chorus, prepared by Sharon Paul, the work will feature soprano Amy Hansen, mezzo-soprano Christine Meadows, tenor David Gustafson and bass Mark Kaczmarczyk. All have Oregon ties.

Once that work was in place, finding compatible pieces was a challenge. The concert will open with a Ralph Vaughan Williams' lush, string-heavy Fantasia on "Greensleeves," also known as the carol "What Child Is This?"

Then will come Rimsky- Korsakov's obscure "Christmas Eve" Suite, a work derived from the Russian composer's ill-fated holiday opera. It was based on a story by Nikolai Gogol in which Vakula wins his bride by obtaining for her the empress's slippers, after riding to St. Petersburg on the devil's back.

Rimsky-Korsakov added Russian pagan ritual figures and seasonal deities to the story. Later, he admitted that his embellishments were a "mistake" but "offered the opportunity of writing a wealth of interesting music."

Guerrero said the text "doesn't apply too much to what we in the 20th century consider to be Christmas, but the music itself captures that joy and happiness. It's a very flashy, very virtuosic piece."

Before the 25-minute work is performed, Eugene radio personality Dennis Nakata will read an updated version of Gogol's story, from which the darker elements have been stricken.

As Guerrero put it, "We don't want to hear a Stephen King-type story."

After intermission will come "Jubilee," one of nine symphonic sketches by George Chadwick, a Bostonian who was composing in the late 1800s.

"It has this very, very bright writing," Guerrero said. "Loud orchestra. Lots of percussion. Which at the time, in the late 1800s, was very unusual. It's a very difficult piece to play - which will showcase our orchestra very nicely."

Concluding the concert will be Bach's "Christmas" Cantata, which Guerrero insists will "settle things down and put the icing on the cake.

"The text of the cantata is `Rejoice,' which has been the title of my visit here. It's just been a joy being here. Eugene is a very good place to be. Eugene offers us not only great music, but it is within a bus ride or a walk away. That's a privilege that not many places in the world have to offer."

Arts reporter Fred Crafts can be reached by phone at 338-2575 and by e-mail at fcrafts@guardnet.com.

EUGENE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

WHAT: Giancarlo Guerrero conducts holiday works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, George Chadwick and J.S. Bach

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

WHERE: Silva Hall, Hult Center, Seventh and Willamette streets

HOW MUCH: $14 to $28

(682-5000)

GUARDLINE: For recorded musical selections, dial 485-2000 and select category 3733.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 8, 2002
Words:958
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