If Robert Moody disappears from the stage during “Magic of Christmas,” he has no one to blame but himself.
Moody, conductor of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, has hired illusionist Lyn Dillies to perform as part of this year’s holiday program.
The magician will perform five illusions during the show, but neither she nor Moody would reveal the conductor’s fate — although Dillies hinted that Moody probably is safe.
“I’ll keep him around until at least the last show. I think we need him,” she said with a laugh.
The symphony’s annual “Magic of Christmas” concert opens Friday at Merrill Auditorium. The symphony will perform the show a dozen times through Dec. 23.
Additional guests include the Windham Chamber Singers and the Magic of Christmas Chorus. The program includes a mix of festive and inspirational music, with both classical and popular holiday hits.
Moody has shaped “Magic” into a program with three distinct segments. The first features traditional music for the holidays. The second tells the biblical story. Part three builds the Christmas spirit up to the “Sleigh Ride” sing-along.
That approach seems to be working, Moody said.
“Ticket sales are more brisk than they have been in years,” he said. “Coming off the success of last year, a lot of people felt like it was one of the really stellar years of the three-plus decades of ‘Magic.’ “
The key seems to be keeping the program fresh without changing its structure. That’s where Dillies comes in. The illusionist has been doing magic for years, and has tailored a programs for orchestras.
Based in Westport, Mass., she has been trying to hitch up with the Portland Symphony for many years.
“It’s a such a natural tie-in with the magic theme. It seemed too good to be true,” Dillies said.
Moody has turned the illusionist idea over in his head for a few years, scheming how to bring magic to “Magic.” The concept gained traction last year when the orchestra hired circus performers for “Magic.” The audience seemed to love that “wow factor” even though it wasn’t directly related to Christmas, Moody said.
The reaction emboldened him to push for an illusionist.
Dillies began her “Magic at the Symphony” program about 15 years ago. She has a musical background as a violinist, and she thought that combining magic with orchestral music might be a fun idea and an opportunity for orchestras to reach out to younger audiences.
Her first magic performance with an orchestra was at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. She has since performed her show with orchestras across the country. Her goal is to get her show on PBS.
Other “Magic” highlights:
• The Windham Chamber Singers, led by Richard Nickerson, is made up of 40 students from Windham High School. The group has performed at international music festivals and for U.S. presidents.
• The Magic of Christmas Chorus includes more than 130 volunteers who are members or friends of the Portland Community Chorus.
• Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” will anchor the second half as the musicians try to outdo each other with their comical attire.
• Maine TV personality Bill Green will read from the Scriptures during the biblical portion of the program.
Moody knows he can tinker with “Magic of Christmas,” but he dares not change it too much.
“I heard about ‘Magic’ almost literally upon getting off the plane when I came to Portland for my first audition. It was my first time as a candidate here, and I came to conduct a Pops concert,” he said.
“It was January 2006. I got off the plane, I got in a cab and was making small talk with the cab driver en route to my hotel downtown. I told him why I was here, and the next words I heard were, ‘Oh, yeah, Portland Symphony Orchestra “Magic of Christmas,” it’s a great tradition.’ “
“That story is so indicative of how much of the community knows and loves ‘Magic,’ and clearly has for decades. It’s really great when your orchestra is known and beloved as a really cherished family tradition at the holidays.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: