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Merry Christmas music and a Pixar new year

“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” are lyrics in a Christmas song that are very fitting for the lineup at the Modesto Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in December and January. The musical holiday cheer will kick off on Dec. 6 and 7 with the Holiday Pops! followed by a Holiday Candlelight Concert on Dec. 17. The joy continues with an exciting collaboration between Pixar and the symphony orchestra that is sure to make January the start of a happy New Year. 

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra, Associate Conductor Ryan Murray, the Modesto Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Modesto Symphony Youth Chorus.
“This is such an uplifting concert with some traditional Christmas music and possibly something new,” said MSO President and CEO Caroline Nickel about the holiday concerts. “It just encapsulates the holiday spirit along with tradition and it is so fun. It is just put together really well. The orchestra sounds amazing and the chorus is outstanding. Truly a wonderful start to the holidays.”

MSO has been entertaining the Valley since 1931, and has been a resident company at the Gallo Center for the Arts for over 10 years. They have a full ensemble of professional musicians to light up the stage. Nickel added that their goal has always been to serve the entire community with their programs and entertainment. She has been with MSO since 2007, and the CEO for about six years. 

For the past 25 years, Picnic at the Pops has become a tradition for many and this year they had a Classical Mystery Tour with a tribute to the Beatles in celebration of the 50th anniversary of their album “Abbey Road” this past September. The outdoor concert is held on the E. & J. Gallo Winery Grounds. Originally it began with a guest list of about 1,500 and has since grown to more than 3,000 people each year. 

“One of the things we learned is that our audience enjoys music that they can sing along to and dance to easily and that there is a familiarity to it,” said Nickel. “As a staff one of our biggest takeaways is that we have 3,000 plus people enjoying the concert with an orchestra and having a great time. And knowing that you are part of bringing the community something that is really special and spectacular.” 

The 25th Annual Picnic at the Pops! on the E&J Gallo Winery grounds.
The Holiday Pops is held at the Gallo Center for the Arts and as Nickel stated is a “really fun and dynamic concert.” She explained that the orchestra plays and there are 120 voices in the volunteer chorus that sing along to some pieces. They bring in a guest vocalist each year and this year it will be Broadway singer Ryan Silverman. In their third season, the youth chorus will also perform a couple songs. The stage will be set as a winter wonderland and there may be a visit from a jolly guest in a red suit. 

The Holiday Candlelight Concert began many years ago at a church in Modesto and due to the high attendance, the concert had to be moved to a bigger church that could accommodate more people, so it is now offered at St. Stanislaus Church. 

“That concert is a chamber orchestra and a chamber chorus and it is just a beautiful presentation of holiday Christmas music that puts people in the holiday spirit,” said Nickel. “It is the opposite of the shopping craziness. St. Stanislaus church has a beautiful dome ceiling so it is just a really great space to have this in.”

MSO also has an education program that has expanded over the past few years and, keeping the whole community in mind, they are bringing Pixar in concert on Jan. 24 and 25, 2020. The orchestra will play live while various clips of Pixar movies will be displayed including “Ratatouille,” “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Toy Story,” “Up” and “The Incredibles.” 

“So, the orchestra is playing live music while you are watching the film on the big screen hanging above the orchestra,” stated Nickel. “This is something that orchestras are starting to do that is popular among concert goers and we are really excited to bring that. That is another way that we reach our community and serve a different audience.”

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