Planning the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Holiday Pops concert each year requires a delicate balancing act. The audiences expect to hear all their favorite songs, yet something has to change each year to keep it fresh and new.
“You hope you get it right when you do it,” says Bradley Thachuk, the Phil's former associate conductor, who is returning to Fort Wayne to conduct the holiday classic. Thachuk left the city two years ago to become the music director for the Niagara Symphony.
This will be the fifth year Thachuk has conducted the Holiday Pops. In a previous year, he discovered the perils of making an unpopular change. “I learned my lesson very early on — people expect Handel's 'Messiah,'” he said.
He had a reasonable explanation for why the “Hallelujah” chorus was dropped from the program that year. The Philharmonic Chorus, which normally sang the “Hallelujah” chorus, wasn't a part of the Holiday Pops that year. The Fort Wayne Children's Choir was in the show, but “we didn't think it would work for the Children's Choir,” Thachuk said.
So the “Hallelujah” chorus, which usually ended the Holiday Pops show, was eliminated.
“Oh, we heard about it,” Thachuk said.
Regulars will be pleased to know the Philharmonic Chorus will be back this year, as will the “Hallelujah” chorus.
“Sleigh Ride” is another Pops favorite that would be sorely missed by the audience, Thachuk said. There are no plans to drop it from the concert.
Still, he tries to incorporate two or three new things into the concerts each year.
He and principal bass player and arranger Adrian Mann have a large selection of Christmas arrangements from which to draw. “It's very easy for us to sit down and say, 'What haven't we done in a few years,'” Thachuk said.
This year, Elvis Presley's “Blue Christmas” will be performed, as well as a reading of “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.”
The philharmonic is bringing back performers from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music this year.
“That program is one of the top musical theater programs in the country,” said J.L. Nave III, Phil CEO and president, speaking of the caliber of talent at the school. He said the school has more graduates on Broadway than any other musical theater program in the country, and he noted that Fort Wayne audiences may see some of them onstage here a year or two before they appear on Broadway.
Thachuk, who was rehearsing with them in Cincinnati before coming to Fort Wayne on Tuesday, raved about the “absolutely stunning voice” of Nathaniel Irvin and the “astounding range” of Blaine Krauss, both of whom are coming from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to perform with the Phil.
Asked why he's still coming back to Fort Wayne to do the Holiday Pops two years after he left the city, Thachuk said, “It's something that I've come to love, doing this show.”
With the Philharmonic Chorus, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music performers and the Fort Wayne Children's Choir all part of the show, Thachuk says it's “quite a complicated affair pulling it all together.”
Currently, the Niagara Symphony doesn't have a venue large enough to mount a show of this size, Thachuk says. But it's a different story with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, which performs on the Embassy Theatre stage, where there's room for the dance routines.
“This orchestra has the capacity to do the kind of Christmas show I like to do,” Thachuk said, adding that “you really have to love Christmas to do this.”
And there's one additional benefit to Thachuk doing the Holiday Pops concerts.
“It's always special to come back to Fort Wayne,” he says.