samuel barbara

Portland Symphonic Choir review: happy homecomings

Holiday concert features guest conductor recently returned to his native territory and new homegrown music by an Oregon composer


Samuel Barbara has come home for the holidays and more. The Portland native shared his pleasure at relocating to the Pacific Northwest with the audience earlier this month at the second season concert of Portland Symphonic Choir. Dr. Barbara, who studied with the late Roger Doyle at University of Portland, took his doctoral degree at USC, traveled and taught worldwide before returning to Portland to assume the choral directorship of Portland Community College’s Rock Creek Campus. And then, lo, arose the vacancy for the artistic director of PSC and the reason for his guest conductor role in the choir’s seasonal program.

Samuel Barbara conducted Portland Symphonic Choir’s Wintersong concerts. Photo: Toni Wise.

The venue was Portland’s Rose City Park Methodist Church, the program predictably holiday-ish yet eclectic, the presentation wonderfully well paced. Dr. Barbara assembled the repertoire well and then maintained the momentum from the podium. Holiday concerts seem to go in only a couple directions: a stand alone larger work such as Handel’s Messiah or a duo of medium-sized works, Magnificat by Bach or Britten’s Ceremony of Carols OR a “bits and pieces” collection of the conductor’s choice. Not to say folks don’t enjoy the latter, but sometimes it can just get a bit saccharine. But Dr. Barbara chose to anchor this concert with the John Rutter Gloria and offered up a creative variety of known/unknown and downright brand spanking new holiday fare.

Featured for added interest were Carl Thor’s hammered dulcimer (not a reference to overdoing the eggnog, but to distinguish it from bowed or electronic) played as accompaniment and solo, with eight jolly good brass players and percussion, engaged throughout in the Rutter; renowned Morman Tabernacle Choir’s Mack Wilberg’s Tres Cantus Laudendi (Three songs of Praise, second movement); and Italian late Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli’s polychoric Hodie Christus Natus Est (Today Christ is born).


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