BRSO concert puts all in holiday mood

Oh, Santa Baby, please hurry down the chimney and bring us another Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra “Home for the Holidays” concert.

And he will at 2 p.m. Sunday, when the orchestra stages an encore of its annual holiday performance in the Baton Rouge River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts.

“You will leave here in the holiday spirit whether you like it or not,” said Timothy Muffett, the orchestra’s music director and conductor.

His comment was met by a round of laughter, but he was right. The symphony’s music, accompanied by the Baton Rouge Symphony Chorus and guest artist Mara Bonde, was nothing less than joyous.

The concert was the orchestra’s fourth in its Investar Masterworks Series.

Muffitt also was joined on stage by Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, who announced that Diana Ross would be the guest performer for the 10th annual Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation Great Performers in Concert series. The concert is slated for Feb. 8, 2013.

As exciting as the prospect of a Baton Rouge performance of Ross singing her Grammy Award-winning hits may be, immediate attention in the River Center Theatre was tuned into the holidays.

And the orchestra welcomed the holiday season with James Stephenson’s “Santa Baby.” It wasn’t performed until the second half of the program, but it was a fun, jazzy interlude that featured the chorus men in a playful accompaniment to Bonde’s lead.

But the best part here was the symphony brass. A Louis Armstronglike solo segued into a Dixieland jazz ensemble, which gave way to a big band sound.

All of which highlighted the orchestra’s diverse program. It may sound like a cliché to say there was something on this program for everyone, but it’s true.

The first part of the program opened with Leroy Anderson’s familiar “Christmas Festival,” which set the mood, because the night, indeed, was festive. Most pieces that followed focused on the sacred aspect of the season, celebrating Christ’s birth and telling the story of Judas Maccabaeus.

“Handel wasn’t a one-hit wonder,” Muffitt said.

His comment was in reference to George Frederick Handel’s three-act oratorio. Handel is probably best known for yet another oratorio, “The Messiah.” The orchestra and chorus would end the first part of the program with the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “The Messiah,” but not before performing three movements from “Judas Maccabaeus” to commemorate Hanukkah.

And not before its winds would deliver a powerful performance in “We Three Kings of Orient Are.”

But one of the biggest highlights before intermission was the chorus’ performance of “Carol of the Bells.” Close your eyes, and yes, you could imagine an angel chorus fueled by joy.

“It really is so great to have our chorus back with us,” Muffitt said.

The program turned to the secular after intermission, highlighting Bonde’s vocals in a string of Christmas favorites, including Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and a celebratory audience sing-along of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

And in the end, Santa Baby delivered, because more than a few people were humming their favorite carols while walking back to their automobiles.

Signaling the beginning of the holiday season.