Northfield composer helps CSO ‘Welcome Yule!’
By Dorothy Andries For Sun-Times Media December 15, 2011 4:04PM
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus kick off their “Welcome Yule!” concert series Dec. 16.
♦ Chicago Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
♦ Dec. 16-18 and Dec. 21-23
♦ (312) 294-3000
Updated: January 18, 2012 9:38AM
The Chicago Symphony Chorus has presented its lavish “Welcome Yule!” concert for 17 years and composer Gary Fry of Northfield has been part of it for 16 of those Decembers.
“The spectacle continues to evolve every year,” said Fry. “Each holiday season, the show is somewhat different. Duain likes to push the envelope.”
Fry was speaking of Duain Wolf, the director of the Chicago Symphony Chorus. In 1995, his first year at Orchestra Hall, he established “Welcome Yule!” and has conducted it ever since. It is a rich holiday feast with the 145-voice Chicago Symphony Chorus, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Midwest Young Artists Voices Rising from Highwood and the “Welcome Yule!” Dance Ensemble all joining in the merriment.
The following season Wolfe commissioned the Emmy Award-winning Fry to compose the now much-anticipated “Christmas in Chicago,” which spotlights the excitement and beauty of the city during the holiday season.
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“We inserted one stanza about something in the local news,” Fry recalled, “and we’ve been doing that ever since.”
Topics have ranged from sports teams to the 1999 Cows on Parade. “We have a contest for members of the chorus to come up with topics,” he continued. This year’s winning ideas will come in a verse about Chicago’s new mayor and the big Marilyn Monroe statue on Michigan Avenue.
The concert has distinct moods. The first part is traditional and classical, with selections from Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”
Fry said, “the mood is more secular, with novelty pieces and light-hearted music.”
Last Christmas, for the first time, the concert was scripted, Fry explained, and a narrative connected the musical numbers. “That fresh approach was favorably received,” he said, “and we’re doing that again this year.”
The 2011 theme — which just might cheer up the United States Postal Service — is Christmas Cards. The first half includes songs composed by Alfred Burt, originally written as Christmas cards meant to be sung. Chicago actors Natalie Berg, Tim Gregory and Brian McCartney will be joined by the Welcome Yule! Dance Ensemble.
Cards and letters sent to Santa Claus inform the second half of the concert, which includes an appearance by Officer Mike and Elf Ellen of the North Pole Postal Service. The music includes Leroy Anderson’s perennially popular “Sleigh Ride” and Fry’s “The Hall Bedecked,” which was commissioned for this year’s concert.
Midwest Young Artists Voices Rising, singing after intermission, consists of more than 60 children, mostly fifth- to eighth-graders, explained Karen Dennis, administrative director of MYA, located in the Fort Sheridan area of Highwood. “These are a bunch of kids who just love to sing,” she said. “Some alums who are in high school even come back to be part of this concert.”
Fry himself conducted Voices Rising from 2005 to 2009.
Orchestra Hall will be decorated for the holiday season, adding visual magic. Before each performance and during intermissions from Dec. 16 to 22, choirs from local schools and community groups will sing in the lobby spaces of Symphony Center.
“Entire families come to this program and for many of the children it is their first taste of Orchestra Hall,” Fry said.
And it is sure to be sweet this year. Everyone attending the concert will receive a holiday cookie to eat on the way home.