By Suzi Steffen
Diane Retallack has had quite the week when the Eugene Review reaches her. She’s been at the Ohio Star Ball Championships in Columbus, and the local daily has written a pretty great article about her discovery of competitive dance. But this woman is nothing if not focused, and now it’s time to switch over to the Eugene Concert Choir/Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble holiday concert, even though she does let slip that she and her dance partner placed fifth in Latin dance.
The Festival of Carols, which starts at 3 pm Sunday, Dec. 4, turns toward the comforts of a winter holiday season – or, in this case, mostly Christmas. (There are two Hanukkah songs involved in the performance.) The event seems to embody the spirit of hygge, that Danish concept of coziness and home, the kind of thing that holiday commercials always seem to want us to feel.
“For me, going to a concert, it’s very much an escape,” Retallack said. “You can transport yourself somewhere else and completely immerse yourself in the performance, and in the community of everyone being there together.”
The concert officially starts at 3, but the spirit of the season kicks in starting at 2 pm, when ticket holders can grab free cups of wassail (spiced ale) and cookies via the Concert Choir (or stronger libations via Hult Center concessions).
A pianist will be playing carols in the Hult Lobby, and the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble will host a carol sing-along near the piano. Retallack is also pleased that the Springfield High School Concert Choir, under the direction of Stacy Swartout-McKee, will lead those gathered in the lobby in the traditional holiday performance of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
Then it’s into the Silva Concert Hall, where the 100-voice choir (the combined numbers of the Eugene Vocal Arts and Eugene Concert Choir), with holiday brass, will do everything from perform Gregorian chants in and around the hall – personally, that sends a shiver of delight up my spine – to host another, larger holiday sing-along during the first half of the concert, to finish with a medley of carols from around the world. All of that stars the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble, who have Renaissance garb from the many years that they used to host English Madrigal Dinners, in front of a Gothic castle backdrop.
Retallack said that she decided last year to try out something new for the ECC’s Dickens of a Christmas, and she ordered a backdrop from New York’s Backdrops Fantastic. When that went smoothly and worked well, she chose to order several for this concert as well, including the Gothic castle for the first half of the concert and then a palace interior for the second half.
“I wanted to add this tremendous color and vitality to the concert,” Retallack said. “Sight, sound, all of it will go together.”
In the second half of the concert, the combined choirs will sing Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata, and then the Vocal Arts Ensemble will sing what Retallack calls “more modern things.” That includes an arrangement of Mel Tormé’s “Christmas Song” (you may know it from its first line, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”) for very close harmony – a song “close to my heart,” Retallack said, for the arrangement is by her father, Roy E. Johnson.
The second half contains a wide variety of other classics and new music, including a Nigerian carol, “Betelehumu,” and what the press release described as the “fun and raucous” piece “Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas.”
“It’s very much a family concert,” Retallack said.
But she added, “The interesting thing about a choir like ours is that we stand, people from all walks of life in the community, we stand together and sing in harmony. We are unified so the community can feel safe and comforted. Everyone has come together to enjoy and be a part of the gloriousness of life.”
A Festival of Carols
The Eugene Concert Choir
with Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble and Holiday Brass
3 pm Sunday, Dec. 4
The Hult Center
Tickets $25-$57.35 online or by phone, 541-682-5000