Holiday concert shows Music in the Mountains’ renaissance

We’ve been enjoying the renaissance of Music in the Mountains under artistic advisor Pete Nowlen, resident conductor and chorus director Ryan Murray, executive director Cristine Kelly, the board and its staff.

I must admit I enjoy Pete because he’s a fellow Northwestern University grad (in music, in his case), but the main reason is the musical “bridge” he’s helped build with the Sacramento area classical music and performing arts scene. Much of it comes from Pete’s ties to the Sac State department of Music, where he is a longtime faculty member, as well as the Sacramento music region as a whole.

Despite all its attributes, our foothills’ community could benefit greatly from a four-year college (in arts & culture and science), and the relationships that Pete brings to the table are a big help. Some examples of Nowlen’s “Rolodex” (or digital file) of contacts: bringing teenage prodigy violinist Ray Anthony Trujillo, who was invited to play at Carnegie Hall, to the foothills. Another is Sac State faculty member Omari Tau, whose specialities include opera, theater, jazz and pops.

Omari was the narrator of MIM’s John Williams concert this summer. (Before joining Sac State’s faculty, Omari completed a nine-year tour of Disney’s “The Lion King” performing the role of Banzai, which traveled throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada).

This past weekend, Omari was the narrator of MIM’s annual holiday concert at the Amaral Center at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. Omari was entertaining and informative as he explained the program.

Ryan Murray put together a wonderful program, akin to a “pops” concert. It included favorites (one of mine is Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”), a sing-along (“First Noel” and “Joy to the World”), classics (“Messiah”) and Hollywood (three holiday songs from “Home Alone”).

Besides the orchestra and chorus, the program included acoustic guitarists, who helped perform Trans Siberian Orchestra arrangements. The group also performed Mannheim Steamroller arrangements, truly getting “out of the box” for a holiday program. I loved it, and so did our son. It added a whole new (youthful) dimension.

The concert prices were reasonable, including a deeply discounted youth ticket. (We applaud both MIM and InConcert Sierra for their reasonable pricing; the same is true of The Center for the Arts, given the “big-city” talent that they draw).

Besides its two holiday concerts, MIM’s children holiday concert also was a big hit.

As resident conductor, Ryan has been continued to hone his musical experience. This summer, he was chosen as a prestigious Ansbacher Fellow, and he traveled to Vienna, Austria. It was a real coup for Ryan, and our local music scene.

All told, this has been a great year for MIM. Earlier this year, I enjoyed its “Prelude for Yuba Salmon” collaborative adventure in music, environment and film. A related documentary “River Music” was chosen for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival.

Congratulations to the staff and board of MIM for creating approachable, innovative concerts. I’m looking forward to 2015.

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