Review: Musicians give a Christmas gift

The Okanogan Valley Orchestra plays while “The Bear” plays on the big screen.

OMAK - Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus musicians continued the tradition of giving the Okanogan Valley a grand Christmas gift when they performed the “Winter Magic Returns” concert Dec. 8.

The event, in the Omak Performing Arts Center, included lively Christmas music by BrassWorks in the lobby as concert-goers entered the theater.

The chorus, under the direction of Jonathan McBride, began with Beethoven’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Beethoven’s version came 62 years after the more-familiar Handel piece by the same name.

Chorus members handled the music with aplomb, despite needing a bit more tenor voice to round out the sound.

“Winter Dreams” offered a calm interlude after the formal “Hallelujah.” Members of the Omak High School choir joined the chorus for the number.

“Patapan Fantasia” offered a reworking of the old French carol, while “Nutcracker Jingles” was a mash-up of lyrics from “Jingle Bells” and music from “The Nutcracker.” The singers clearly had fun with the piece and, judging from a smattering of chuckles throughout the house, so did the audience.

“We wanted to do ‘Nutcracker’ and ‘Jingle Bells,’ but we didn’t want the concert to be too long,” said McBride in introducing the piece.

The Chorus wrapped up with “Christmas Pops Trio,” a medley of holiday favorites. The final chord of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was pure magic.

Pianist Kathleen Christensen stayed busy throughout the set.

Despite including five pieces, the choral section of the concert whizzed by in a flash. After intermission, the orchestra started its two-selection set with an unprogrammed piece, “Now the Woods are Silently Sleeping.”

“Concert Suite from ‘The Polar Express,’” the score from the 2004 film, was performed beautifully and could have been a finale piece in another setting, but conductor Matt Brown chose to follow up one film’s music with that of another - plus the film itself.

Building on last year’s successful production of “The Snowman,” the orchestra performed the score to the 1998 Peabody Award-winning short film “The Bear” while the movie played on a huge screen above the musicians.

Noni Alley sang the part of Tilly, a little girl who loses her teddy bear at the zoo only to have it returned by a polar bear. Peter Steffen sang Bear’s part and Jonathan McBride was the Star Bear.

I’m sure some audience members’ eyes were glued to the screen as Tilly, Bear and Star Bear explored London, and the music became incidental. I know others kept an eye on the screen but also were following the orchestra and singers.

Ugo Bartell narrated, although his words often were lost during orchestral crescendos. That’s OK, since the piece didn’t really need a narrator. According to online sources, the American version has narration by Dame Judi Dench, but other versions have no spoken words.

The audience - sadly, the house was only about two-thirds full - gave the players a well-deserved standing ovation as the final strains of music settled on the air.

Next up is “Whodunit,” a mid-winter concert set for Feb. 16. It will feature “a mystery along with the music,” said orchestra-chorus coordinator Judy Johnston.

Dee Camp is a reporter for The Chronicle. Email her at

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