Music review: A musical gift for everyone

Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s “Holiday Spectacular” is streaming now.
Written By: Sheryl Jensen, For the Duluth News Tribune | 4:28 pm, Dec. 7, 2021

With Christmas bells brightly ringing, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra Chorus merrily singing, and the orchestra festively playing, the “Holiday Spectacular” concert certainly lived up to its name, kicking off a potpourri of the season’s music for its live weekend concerts and now for streaming audiences.

Over 130 singers and musicians onstage made for a magnificent and moving collective sound. Joining the symphony was the DSSO Chorus (Richard Robbins, chorus master) after a two-year absence. Even masked, the chorus filled the auditorium with lush harmonies, and blended seamlessly with the orchestra on several pieces throughout the evening.

DSSO Chorus members Rufina Robbins and Josephine Barstad were featured in their angelic solos in “Celtic Nativity.” This piece’s blend of four traditional carols, two from Ireland and two from Scotland, was a lovely tribute to Celtic heritage.

Strikepoint, a locally based community/professional hand bell choir, (Bill Alexander, director), made their own magic, both performing on their own and with the orchestra. Watching them play was like a ballet of lyrical movements as they rang one bell or two, and gracefully changed bells from the silvery array in front of them. 

On a handbell, the “strikepoint” is a mark etched into the side of the bell indicating where the clapper should strike in order to produce the truest sound. Strikepoint achieved the truest of holiday sounds, adding yet another wonderful dimension to the concert.

I lost count of the number of different holiday songs in the DSSO’s extravaganza, with an amazing number of suites from film scores, classic songs, traditional carols, medleys and even a premiere work. It was a veritable “name that tune” night, especially in the fast-paced medleys.

Three audience favorites were from the scores of three holiday films. Opening the concert was Alan Silvestri’s sweeping and majestic, “Polar Express,” from the 2004 film, based on the beloved children’s book.

Famed composer of many film scores, Dimitri Tiomkin, wrote the music for the 1946 film classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The orchestra was joined by the full chorus for parts of the score and the beautiful title song. Robbins and Barstad again were magnificent as featured vocalists.

Opening the second half of the concert was a somewhat surprising medley of three songs from the 1990 comedy “Home Alone,” not exactly first to come to mind as a film score that one might expect to be featured in a concert. The song “Somewhere in My Memory,” written by John Williams and Leslie Bricusse, captures, in lyrics and haunting music, recollections of holidays past.

I now have all three films on my holiday watch list, so I can go back and listen to each film’s score in context and enjoy how the music helps bring to life the magical train ride, the Frank Capra fantasy, and the hilarious antics of the rambunctious little boy and the two dim-witted burglars. 

One of the highlights, in a night filled with them, was the awe-inspiring world premiere of Lucas Richman’s “The Hanukkah Story,” featuring the symphony, the chorus and narrator Danny Frank. The piece recounts the origins of the holiday by telling the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters, and their triumphant return to Jerusalem to reclaim their temple, and have the first celebration of the eight nights and the Festival of Lights.

A holiday concert tradition for the DSSO is to end with an audience sing-along featuring classic carols. With the symphony, the chorus and the audience all joined in song, the room was filled with resounding holiday cheer and goodwill. 

Music director Dirk Meyer, who was masterful, as always, in conducting all the “bells and whistles” of this holiday extravaganza, said their goal for the evening was “to dial up the holiday spirit.” And right through to the wild cheers, standing ovation and encore of “Silent Night,” it was obvious they had achieved that goal. 

My holiday wish for you is, if you did not attend the concert in person, stream it soon to receive one of the best presents you’ll get this year—the gift of music from our very own DSSO and their musical friends.

If you go

  • What: Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s “Holiday Spectacular”
  • When: Streaming now
  • Tickets: Virtual tickets $15; future in-person concert tickets $10-$58
  • Info:, 218-623-3776

Next concert: “To Be Bold,” Jan. 15.

Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.