Golden State Pops Orchestra Holiday POPS Spectacular – A Night of Festive Fun

On Saturday, December 20th the Golden State Pops Orchestra returned with their stunning holiday concert at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro. The GSPO started in 2002, by Conductor and Artistic Director Steven Allen Fox. Fox’s charisma and engagement with the audience helped keep the concert popping—his performance notes and brief explanations added information to the program notes and made the concert a more enjoyable experience. The Golden State Pops Orchestra performs with live choir, the Golden State Pops Chorale, under the direction of Victor Pesavento. Both Fox and Pesavento show a commitment to bringing this music to a larger audience and to celebrating living composers.

Unlike other orchestras the Golden State Pops Orchestra focuses on “media” music—their innovative programs bring TV, film and video game music to a live orchestra and make it possible to re-experience your favorite soundtracks. These pops concerts showcase contemporary composers and often feature guest conductors.

The orchestra makes its home in the historic Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. This repurposed, art deco style movie theater harkens back to the golden age of film in Hollywood and first opened in 1931. It seems poetic justice that the Golden State Pops Orchestra calls this movie house its home. The Warner Grand Theatre was called “The Castle of Your Dreams” in its heyday and it continues to fulfill the dreams of orchestra lovers and film aficionados by combining the best elements of these two genres in one concert hall. Despite this, the Warner Grand Theatre is not as acoustically equipped for orchestra and choir as more recently constructed halls, such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Still, the novelty and historic appeal of the theatre make it a fitting home for the GSPO.

The GSPO bends the mold of traditional concert programming by incorporating modern compositions and arranging film and TV scores for live orchestra. These thematically unified programs, such as the Holiday POPS concert or the Superhero Soundtracks concert, highlight the variety of modern music. The GSPO is extremely relevant to today’s society; it shows how traditional orchestral instruments combine with multimedia compositions to take the listener on a journey. It underscores the musicality of these pieces and builds a greater appreciation for soundtracks and video game music—scores that usually go unrecognized.

The Holiday POPS Spectacular featured a diverse program that included classical carols and music from both “traditional” Christmas movies and recent films. The program included music from It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, The Polar Express, Frozen and A Christmas Carol.

The “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” version the orchestra performed mixed the traditional tune with Pacabel’s “Canon in D” and was arranged by horn player, Victor Pesavento. This arrangement encapsulates the GSPO—it skillfully blends an old standard with something unexpected and creates something new. It is not radical but it, nonetheless, takes a creative leap.

Film composer, John Debney, guest conducted a suite from Elf and the orchestral premier of music from Christmas with the Kranks. GSPO also brought film composer, Bruce Broughton, to the stage to conduct Miracle on 34th Street. Both guest conductors were warmly welcomed and received standing ovations.

In addition to these guest appearances, the Golden State Pops Orchestra highlighted soloists, Claire Snodgrass, Claire Skelley, Kyle Patterson and Shoshana Bean. Bean gave a soulful rendition of “Let it Go” from Frozen while Patterson sang the more introspective “Believe” from The Polar Express. Snodgrass and Skelley gave an enthusiastic performance of “When You Believe” from Prince of Egpyt and later returned to the stage for the closing song, “God Bless Us Everyone” from A Christmas Carol.

Steven Allen Fox, the conductor, asked the audience to stand for the traditional sing-a-long of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus and received an enthusiastic—if somewhat out of tune response. The crowd seemed to be a blend of seasoned concert-goers and more casual listeners. Yet, by the end everyone was out of their seats for a standing ovation and the orchestra returned to the stage play an encore of jazzy traditional Christmas carols.

The Golden State Pops Orchestra concert presented an experience for the attendees—it’s not just the enchanting venue or the amiable crowd, the friendly conductor or the beautifully familiar music that put guests in the holiday spirit—but the combination of these things.

The Holiday POPS Spectacular presented an abundance of holiday cheer while still focusing on exciting music. The concert left guests feeling celebratory and humming along to their favorite songs. The fake snow falling outside of the theatre after the concert didn’t hurt the holiday mood either.



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