The Portland Symphony Orchestra and Magic of Christmas Chorus in a previous performance. Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Eckart Preu has traveled widely in recent weeks – across Europe to see his family in Germany, to Hawaii and most recently to Istanbul, which he visited for the first time.

Eckart Preu Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

“It’s a fascinating culture and country, and Istanbul has a great food scene,” he said. “It’s been a whirlwind. Traveling is a lot of fun, and it makes you appreciate what you’ve got. Your heart and your roots are (at home). We often look for good stuff afar when there is plenty of good stuff right in front of your nose.”

Preu is conducting his first Magic of Christmas concerts by the Portland Symphony Orchestra at Merrill Auditorium. The concerts with the Magic of Christmas Chorus and guest vocalist Kevin Deas continue through Sunday. This is the 40th season of Magic. This year’s program includes the perennial favorite “Sleigh Ride” singalong and the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah, as well as an arrangement of the Hanukkah Festival Overture by Bangor Symphony conductor and Grammy Award-winning composer Lucas Richman.

Kevin Deas will sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Deas, a bass and baritone, will narrate “The Night Before Christmas” and sing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Preu also is including some upbeat Baroque music. “That is something you don’t usually hear at a Pops concert, but I wanted to include it to show that people in the 17th century had fun, too,” he said.

Preu grew up in East Germany, where Christmas celebrations and traditions focused most principally on the gathering of family and friends. “Even under socialism, we celebrated Christmas, but it wasn’t a commercial Christmas. We couldn’t buy anything anyway, because there was nothing to buy. It was just about family and being together in our search for comfort and joy,” he said.

He is eager to join the Magic tradition in Portland to tap into one of the community’s most popular celebrations and share his continuing quest for comfort and joy with his new extended family. “Whenever you are a part of a large audience, there is a strong social component to that experience, where you share something with 1,000 or 2,000 other people,” he said. “It amplifies your own experience. That’s why people come back year after year.”

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