The Portland Symphony Orchestra performed its annual “Magic of Christmas” concerts at Merrill Auditorium last year, but without an audience. The concerts were available digitally, so people could watch in the safety and comfort of their homes.

During the winter wave of the pandemic, it was a nice alternative to no concert at all. But with audiences able to assemble again, the orchestra’s music director, Eckart Preu, is eager to return to the hall with a large orchestra, a big chorus and a spirited, fast-moving program.

“We plan to observe all the traditions that people expect and love,” he said. “We hope it feels like a real homecoming and reunion.”

With guest artist and Maine native Laura Darrell in the starring role, it should.

Darrell, a soprano, grew up in Yarmouth and starred in the touring production of “Frozen Live.” She’s appeared on film and TV, and worked on stages in Maine, New York and across the country. At the “Magic of Christmas” concerts, she will sing “For the First Time in Forever” from the popular “Frozen” film, as well as songs from holiday-themed movies (“Christmas Time is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” most notably), Christmas songs and other holiday music.

The PSO will perform 12 “Magic of Christmas” concerts at Merrill Dec. 10-19 – nine full concerts with intermission, and three shorter concerts without an intermission, slightly less music and socially distanced seating. The PSO also will offer the concert on its digital platform, PortlandSymphonyTV.com, from Dec. 17 though Jan. 1.

A highlight will likely be the “The Maine Christmas Song” by Maine songwriter Con Fullam. He wrote it in 1986 about childhood memories growing up in Sidney, celebrating a neighborly sense of sharing, giving and caring, and it has become one of Maine’s most popular contemporary holiday songs.

This is the first time the Portland Symphony Orchestra has performed it, Fullam said. “It means a lot to me that the symphony is performing the song,” he said. “It a validation on a whole different level. It’s very heartwarming and very special.”

Eckart Preu, center, conducts the Portland Symphony Orchestra in a 2020 rehearsal for the digital “Magic of Christmas,” which nearly 5,000 households in 35 states watched online. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Fullam worked with the symphony last year when the multicultural chorus that he founded, Pihcintu, collaborated with the PSO for its digital “Magic” concert. “I developed a relationship there, and I approached Eckart and asked if he had ever heard of the ‘The Maine Christmas Song.’ He had not, so I sent him a copy.”

The appearance of the song on the “Magic” program coincides with the publication of a new children’s book named after the song and based on its lyrics. Maine artist Cynthia Baker illustrated the book, published by Maine-based McSea Books.

The concert also will feature municipal organist James Kennerley, along with former municipal organist Ray Cornils. Concert master Nicolás Alberto Dosman will prepare the Magic of Christmas Chorus.

But for everything that may be new and different, the PSO won’t change tradition, bringing the concert to a festive conclusion with “Sleigh Ride,” a holiday sing-along and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”

The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” at Merrill Auditorium; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 12; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-18; and 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 19; $18 to $95; portlandsymphony.org or porttix.com


MORE HOLIDAY MUSIC

In Freeport, the Portland Trumpet Ensemble puts a holiday dazzle on Freeport’s Sparkle Weekend with a performance at 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at the newly opened Meeting House Arts building, operated by the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Freeport. The ensemble includes musicians who have performed with the Portland, Bangor, and Midcoast symphony orchestras, the Reading and Harrisburg Symphony Orchestras of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Brass Quintet and others. $18 in advance, $20 at the door, and kids 16 and younger free. freeportartsandculture.org.

The Heather Pierson Jazz Trio returns to One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland, for two performances of the music from the 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” with a musical score by Vince Guaraldi, at 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 12. This performance has become a local favorite, and often sells out in advance. The TV show remains popular, and Pierson, on piano and vocals, gives Guaraldi’s music beloved treatment, with Shawn Nadeau on bass and Craig Bryan on drums.

After a pandemic break, “Christmas with Renaissance Voices” returns with performances at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St., Portland. Harold Stover leads Portland-based vocal chamber ensemble in a program of seasonal music from the 9th to 21st centuries.

The Portland String Quartet presents its Winter Solstice Concert at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Motherhouse at Baxter Woods, the ongoing redevelopment of the former Sisters of Mercy at 605 Stevens Ave., Portland. The concert is free, performed by the quartet as a gift to the city. The quartet will perform Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” in the newly renovated and reopened chapel in the heart of Deering Center.

Portland municipal organist James Kennerley performs his annual “Christmas with Kennerley” program at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at Merrill Auditorium, home of the magnificent Kotzschmar Organ. During his tenure as municipal organist, Kennerley has developed a reputation for respectful levity and fun, and this program tends to bring out his best performances and biggest surprises. $18 to $58, plus fees. porttix.com

In Bath, the Chocolate Church Arts Center concludes a busy month of holiday-themed performances by continuing one of its oldest traditions, the ever-popular annual “Sing! It’s Christmas” sing-along, from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 20. Members of the community have gathered the Monday before Christmas for this seasonal celebration of song for many years. There is no cost to participate, and all are welcome.

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