Nick Ziobro brought a fine voice and vintage crooner attitude to the annual Magic of Christmas show. Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra has introduced some swinging sounds to its annual celebration of the holiday season for 2022.

In its 43rd year, the Magic of Christmas hits all the right notes with a traditional mix of sacred carols and soaring secular pieces. The program also adds a very engaging touch or two of a more casual approach, with snappy arrangements that bring back memories of popular artists of not so long ago in full holiday mode.

Guest vocalist Nick Ziobro was the epitome of a hip frontman as he contributed his fine voice and a vintage crooner attitude to such jazzy selections as “Cool Yule” (including some scat singing) and a full-out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The PSO, conducted by red-jacketed Music Director Eckart Preu, was up to the task of backing the casual, hands-in-pockets singer with punchy horn riffs emerging over walking basslines and rumbling percussion.

Ziobro took flight over a lush string arrangement for “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” and full orchestra for “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” He was sometimes backed by the resonant Magic of Christmas Chorus from the rear of the stage to create a very upbeat and full-bodied musical experience.

Preu, ever the educator, took time to introduce some of the instruments often associated with holiday music as he and the orchestra added cinematic elements to the program with tuneful overtures and suites highlighting films such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Selections from John Williams’ music for the film “Home Alone” brought in the newly formed PSO Children’s Chorus for a friendly, kids versus grownups vocal moment opposite the adult “Magic” chorus behind them.

Eckart Preu leads the Portland Symphony Orchestra in its annual Magic of Christmas show. Photo courtesy of Portland Symphony Orchestra

Preu and the PSO offered two lovely selections from Tchaikovsky’s music for the “Nutcracker” ballet that, while there were no professional dancers on the program this year, allowed the audience to check out a few of the conductor’s more graceful moves on the podium.


Chorusmaster Nicolás Alberto Dosman took over for a time to lead the adult singers in Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” bringing a sense of reverential solemnity and celebration to the proceeding. Later, vocalist Ziobro rose the roof with a spiritual “O Holy Night,” which brought out the strongest applause from the multi-generational crowd at the afternoon performance in the seasonally decked-out Merrill Auditorium.

Comedy was provided during a visit from Santa and the ever-slippery “Sleigh Ride” offered the PSO and company a chance to don silly hats while colorful lights and projections surrounded them in the glow of a particularly engaging Magic of Christmas show.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

This story was updated at 5:05 p.m. Thursday to correct who sang on “O Holy Night.”

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