New orchestra debuts at JLO's holiday show

30-piece Amalga Chamber Orchestra to perform with Juneau Lyric Opera

Posted: Thursday, December 11, 2003

Opera conductor William Todd Hunt wanted to lead orchestral pieces that were too small for the Juneau Symphony Orchestra, yet too large for a smaller chamber ensemble.

So he founded the 30-piece Amalga Chamber Orchestra - a scaled-down collective, 70 percent of whom play in the symphony.

"I saw a need for a smaller group to do some of the repertoire that wasn't being done in Juneau," Hunt said. "The string section is smaller, about half the size of the symphony. And this concert we have less than half the number of wind players."

The orchestra will debut at the Juneau Lyric Opera Holiday Concert, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at St. Paul's Catholic Church. Tickets are $14 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and are available at Hearthside Books or the door.

JLO's winter show traditionally includes parts, if not all, of George Frederick Handel's (1685-1759) "Messiah." This performance will include 15 minutes' worth. Next winter, JLO plans to perform the entire work.

The evening will begin with "Sleigh Ride" by Leopold Mozart (1719-1787), father of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

"It was in the Juneau Symphony library, and it looked like a perfect opener," Hunt said. "It's not nearly as sophisticated as (Wolfang Mozart), but it's still very melodic. I'm sure a lot of people would recognize it as a Mozart. The basic style is the same."

Moving away from the baroque, Juneau Lyric Opera and Amalga will explore two pieces by 20th-century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams - "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" and "Fantasia on Greensleeves."

Williams (1872-1958) was famous for collecting English folk tunes and carols of Christmas tunes which were not necessarily religious.

"(Christmas carols) is a lovely piece," said Bruce Simonson, concert choirmaster. "It has four English carols that aren't really well known in America, but they sound familiar. It's because many of the carols come out of an English and French tradition."

"What he's done is taken all of the Christmas carols, some familiar and some not, and mixed them up and hidden some and put some out there to see," Hunt said. "It's a wonderful mix of familiar and the unfamiliar."

"Fantasia on Greensleeves" is an adaptation of the medieval classic "Greensleeves."

"Most of the chorus just got done with Beethoven's Ninth, and they find (Williams) much easier," Hunt said. "It's not really difficult, but it has a lot of effects that don't happen all the time in a chorus. There are extended portions where the chorus is humming on a single note. He makes the chorus, in some places, sound as if they're part of the orchestra."

Dan Wayne will sing the baritone solo on "Fantasia on Christmas Carols." "Messiah" includes two soprano solos by Kathleen Wayne. The orchestra will also play "Symphony No. 5" by Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

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