Maestro Eckart Preu has effected significant and positive changes to the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Magic of Christmas” concerts, which opened last weekend and continue through Sunday. Contributed

The big news for this Christmas season revolves around the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual two-weekend production of its “Magic of Christmas” concerts. The PSO has a new maestro this year, and I’m pleased to report that he has restored many of the more traditional elements and discarded the irrelevant ones.

Among several fine choral concerts pertaining to Christmas, one longtime personal favorite comes up this weekend. Christmas with Renaissance Voices is scheduled for two performances in Portland.

Looking ahead to early 2020, Portland Ovations hosts the national touring production of the Broadway musical “Waitress” for Jan. 10-11. Here’s hoping that you’ll find tickets in your Christmas stocking.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The magic is back in the Magic of Christmas concerts. That’s the happy news I have to report after the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s new maestro, Eckart Preu, conducted his inaugural Magic of Christmas last weekend. Six more performances are slated.

I had been a regular attendee since the early 1990s, but I lost interest when former maestro Robert Moody introduced a number of non-musical, non-Christmas elements, such as gargantuan puppets, flying acrobats and a magician.

Preu (rhymes with toy) has swept away these irrelevant elements and returned the Magic of Christmas to its roots for this 40th annual production: great symphonic Christmas and wintertime music that ranges from the Renaissance to the present.


The concert opened in a joyous, rousing fashion, as the orchestra was joined by about 80 members of the Portland Community Chorus in Leroy Anderson’s compilation of Christmas carols. Then the program segued to a collection of classical pieces that pertained either to Christmas or the winter season.

Tops among these were Antonio Vivaldi’s Winter Concerto from “The Four Seasons,” with assistant first violinist Amy Sims as the featured soloist, and George Frideric Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

The second half of the program featured more modern and popular music. Highlights included orchestra and voices in a suite from “Elf” with chorus master and music professor Nicolas Alberto Dosman on the podium.

Bass-baritone Kevin Deas gave an inspired reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” plus he sang a very funny selection from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” with musicians and conductor donning Christmas apparel and the brass section imitating neighing horses, was as delightful as it has been for decades. And “Jingle Bells” was there, too.

Per usual, the Magic of Christmas concluded with an audience singalong that wrapped up with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Bring on that figgy pudding.


Following the concert I stopped on the sidewalk and chatted with a longtime PSO board member I’ve known for a quarter-century. “Yes, the magic is back in ‘Magic,’” was the board member’s happy conclusion.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents six performances of its Magic of Christmas concerts at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 21 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Call PortTIX at 842-0800.

Renaissance Voices

One of my personal favorite Christmas programs is given every year by Renaissance Voices, a 21-member a cappella choral ensemble under the direction of Harold Stover.

Although much of their repertoire derives from their namesake period, Renaissance Voices also adds a number of more modern selections, plus a bit of seasonal humor in poetry and prose. It’s a unique feature that goes over very well with audiences.

Two performances are scheduled for this weekend at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St. in Portland: Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 2 p.m. Visit


Some of the happiest people on Christmas morning will be those who pull tickets to “Waitress” out of their stockings. The national tour of this Broadway hit that garnered four Tony Award nominations will visit Merrill Auditorium Jan. 10-11, as Portland Ovations’ first offering of 2020.


With a book by Jessie Nelson and score by Sara Bareillies, “Waitress” revolves around Jenna, a waitress and pie chef in a rural southern diner. Jenna is trapped in an abusive marriage and desperately seeks a way out. Can she find it in an affair with her doctor? Or can she win the big prize offered in a pie-baking contest?

Among the many fine songs, Jenna’s plaintive, lament, “She Used to Be Mine,” coming as she hits rock bottom, represents an outstanding piece of dramatic and lyric stagecraft.

Portland Ovations presents “Waitress” for three performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Call PortTIX at 842-0800.

Maestro Eckart Preu has effected significant and positive changes to the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual “Magic of Christmas” concerts, which opened last weekend and continue through Sunday.

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