Jerry Steichen likes holiday traditions. He tends to get together with his extended family of 28 -- nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters, mom and dad.
He also enjoys planning a holiday show or two as principal pops conductor for the Utah Symphony. One of his favorite things about it is the challenging nature of bringing both tradition and fresh elements to the story.
"What is tricky about holiday shows is balancing tradition with the unexpected," Steichen said. "You don't want to come with the same things year after year. There are some traditions I am inflexible about because they are what Christmas is about to me. Then, there are some places where I say, 'Let's go do something new.' "
This year's show, which plays in Ogden on Thursday and in Salt Lake City the following two nights, features Ogden singer Karen Brookens. The Weber State University vocal professor and soprano first wowed Steichen at a party.
"Last summer we had a little event at somebody's house to benefit the ballet, and I heard Karen Brookens sing for the first time," Steichen said. "She was so wonderful. I asked her if she would perform with us and she said yes. So she is performing in Ogden and Salt Lake for both the Holiday Celebration and for the kids' show (Dec. 13 in Ogden)."
For this year's Holiday Celebration, Steichen is focusing on vocal trios.
"We have artists-in-residence and I had two I was working with, and was looking for that third voice," said Steichen. "Karen Brookens was the third voice for the trio -- I knew it as soon as I heard it. We chatted a little at the party after she performed, and I knew I want her to sing in this show."
"I arranged 'Lift Thine Eyes' and 'Come Unto Him' from 'Messiah' for three-part women's voices. I have some fun stuff, too, like 'Up on the Housetop' for women's voices. We are also arranging for women's voices 'O Come, All Ye Faithful' and 'Silent Night' -- on that one the audience joins in. It's wonderful."
Steichen said that this year's holiday show and the annual children's Christmas concert are closely related.
"The Lollipops concert for the young people is a shorter version of the big show, really," Steichen said. "The highlight for both is 'The Polar Express.' "
Last year's holiday show under Steichen's watch featured a dramatic reading and musical adaptation of "The Night Before Christmas," and this year, the same will be done for "The Polar Express."
"I think telling stories at Christmas time is important," he said. "I think you need them for the season to get in the spirit, and to keep telling the Christmas tale in new ways.
"We decided to feature that piece ('Polar Express') at both concerts because it is a modern classic. We'll just keep it more focused on the storybook aspects for the second show, and keep the additional material lighter and shorter as well. But the 'Polar Express' artwork, projected on big screens, helps tell the story best of all. Those images are really beautiful."
"HOLIDAY CELEBRATION WITH JERRY!" PROGRAM:
"A Christmas Festival" (Leroy Anderson)
"Lift Thine Eyes" from "Elijah" (Felix Mendelssohn)
"Laudamus te" from "Gloria" (Antonio Vivaldi)
"Come Unto Him" from "Messiah" (Georg Frideric Handel)
"Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (traditional)
"Polar Express" (Chris Van Allsburg)
"Shepherd's Jubilee" (Steven Amundson)
"O Come, All Ye Faithful" (John Reading and John F. Wade)
"Up On the Housetop" (Benjamin Russel Hanby)
"A Child's Christmas" (Mearle Marsh)
"Sleigh Ride" (Leroy Anderson)
"The Twelve Days After Christmas" (Frederick Silver)
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Hugh Martin)
"White Christmas" (Irving Berlin)
"Silent Night" (Franz Gruber/Joseph Mohr)
"We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (traditional)