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Familiar home for the holidays

Morihiko Nakahara and the Spokane Symphony Orchestra perform this weekend at the Fox. (File)
Morihiko Nakahara and the Spokane Symphony Orchestra perform this weekend at the Fox. (File)

Nakahara welcomes return of Spokane Symphony’s Holiday Pops

It’s been more than month since the Spokane Symphony Orchestra sat upon the stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. Their four-week labor dispute has been settled just in time for the annual Holiday Pops concert on Saturday and Sunday.

The symphony, and resident conductor Morihiko Nakahara, warmed up this past weekend with “The Nutcracker,” accompanying the State Street Ballet from the Fox’s orchestra pit. Nothing like a little P.I. Tchaikovsky to get a group of musicians warmed up for holiday classics such as “Dance of the Tumblers” from “Snow Maiden,” “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Gloria.”

In an email exchange with Nakahara, we asked some questions about Holiday Pops. Read the interview below.

Q: What is your favorite part about the Holiday Pops?

A. It’s definitely a lot of fun and thrill to conduct these concerts. Although I can’t see our audience and their faces while I conduct for obvious reasons, I can still sense something special and a different kind of energy in the hall at these Holiday Pops concerts. 

Q. Do you have a feel for which number will be the highlight of the weekend?

A. There is one Holiday Pops tradition in Spokane that always gets our crowd excited – Santa guest conducting Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” The rumor has it that this particular Santa has conducted this piece with the Spokane Symphony for over 20 years. We’re featuring him in another selection this year, as he narrates “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” set to Edward Elgar’s beautiful “Nimrod.”   

Q. How do you go about selecting the songs?

A. For this year’s concerts, I wanted to bring back a few of my favorite compositions that we’ve performed together in the past. Pieces belonging to this category include James Stephenson’s brilliant and fun medley “Holiday Overture,” Gustav Holst’s heart warming “Christmas Day” featuring the Symphony Chorale, the aforementioned “Nimrod/Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” etc.

Usually the Symphony Chorale has a wish list of pieces they would like to learn and perform, so I take that into consideration.

I think the biggest challenge when it comes to programming the Holiday Pops is to make sure our audiences get a healthy dose of familiar “tunes” while keeping it fresh, exciting, and surprising. That’s why we have novelty numbers like “Bassoon It Will be Christmas” (seriously, that’s actually the title of one of the arrangements, featuring … you guessed it … our bassoon section). I’m also always looking for different, interesting, and hopefully fun arrangements (“fresh takes,” so to speak) of tunes everyone knows. 

Q. The symphony really hit the ground running this past weekend with “The Nutcracker.” How is work coming along on the Holiday Pops after the monthlong layoff?

A. I know that the musicians were deeply touched by the incredible enthusiasm and appreciation expressed by the “Nutcracker” audience at every performance. … Performing this series of December concerts and sharing the common bond of seasonal joy and wonderment with the Inland Northwest community can be a healing agent for our entire organization. 

Q. What can audience members expect this weekend? 

A. Uplifting and fun musical journey for the whole family! (Some might still remember the infamous Nakahara Santa Costume Malfunction Incident of 2005. Therefore, you can expect that I myself will refrain from suiting up in costumes that are three sizes too big.)