“There’s nothing more important to me than family,” announced Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s new principal pops conductor, Jeff Tyzik, from the stage at Thursday night’s “Holiday Pops” concert. “And I feel like I belong to this one,” he said, indicating both the musicians and a delighted crowd.
Indeed, an initially tentative audience and Tyzik — an occasional guest conductor for SSO who is making his debut as principal pops maestro, succeeding the late Marvin Hamlisch — warmed to one another considerably over the course of a two-hour show. By the time Tyzik took his final bow, you could feel a new chapter had begun at Benaroya Hall, and that Seattle had flashed a big thumbs-up to him.
A low-key, self-deprecating host largely content to let music speak for itself, Tyzik became looser and more engaging as listeners gradually grasped his approach to a festive pops program. Tyzik repeatedly demonstrated he believes in reinvigorating overly familiar material through well-selected, illuminating arrangements (a half-dozen of them his own in this concert).
By the time the show’s first half peaked with his own unexpected hybrid of seasonal favorite “The Little Drummer Boy” and the exotica of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Tyzik was rewarded with loud cheering for one of his own imaginative arrangements. It would not be the last time.
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The concert opened with Tyzik’s adventurous take on “Deck the Halls,” which took on kaleidoscopic colors, shifting from Romantic lushness to swinging hipness to Copland-esque grandeur and a “Firebird”-like ending.
After a sparkling, nicely textured performance of Leroy Anderson’s light orchestral piece “Sleigh Ride — complete with cheerful whinnying effect — Tyzik joked about having spent $100,000 to attend music school (the 61-year-old studied at the Eastman School of Music) just “to sound like a horse.”
Tyzik often spoke between numbers, doing something you don’t see often: acknowledging specific members of the orchestra even before those musicians played a key role in the next tune. A former trumpet player in Chuck Mangione’s band as well as a producer and composer for Doc Severinsen and the Johnny Carson-era “The Tonight Show” orchestra, Tyzik’s appreciation of talented players seemed personal.
Speaking of the old “Tonight” band, Tyzik revived its sound with a jaunty, Tommy Newsom arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” It was no doubt a nostalgic moment for many in the near-capacity audience.
Slightly dazed youngsters from Northwest Boychoir participated in a gorgeous, moving “This Little Light,” a spiritual with the delicacy of angel hair.
The major guest vocalists in the show, Broadway veterans Doug LaBrecque and Christiane Noll, brought added luster and fun, their voices intertwining nicely on several Christmas standards.
There are several more performances of “Holiday Pops” this weekend. If you’re not quite in a seasonal mood yet, this is a quick way to get there.
Tom Keogh: firstname.lastname@example.org