Review: Madison Symphony Christmas returns in full force

At the Madison Symphony Christmas concert, the third song of the second half began with the Madison Youth Choir singing “Come Thou Fount” a cappella. Then the strings played for a moment.

Next, the men of both the Madison Youth Choir and Madison Symphony Chorus joined in song and the women and wind instruments eventually joined the fray. The instruments slowly started to build. Then all voices and instruments joined together to finish the famous hymn.

The power in the room Friday night was clear from not only this song, but from the sheer amount of people on stage.

For the first time in three years, the Madison Symphony Christmas came back to the Overture Center in full force. They began their production with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the Madison Youth Choir processed down the aisles.

Maestro John DeMain, characteristically, started off the show with his jokes and forgot who he was introducing. “This is the part where we go into overtime,” DeMain said.

He did correctly introduce soloist Adriana Zabala. Zabala is an opera singer, acclaimed for her performances throughout the country and outside of it.

Zabala is of Cuban heritage, and DeMain asked her to pick out a Spanish song for the symphony. She picked two and began with one that meant a lot to her.

She chose the song “Los peces en el rio,” a traditional Spanish "Villancico," which she learned in grade school in Caracas.

“It captured my imagination when I was 7 or 8,” Zabala said.

The title of the song in English means “the fish in the water.” Zabala said the song is a mysterious turn on the story of Mary as the mother of Jesus. The song depicts Mary doing mundane things, but the refrain switches to a description of life underneath the water, where there is excitement for the extraordinary life Mary carries.

Zabala said this song means a lot to her because it reminds her that there is always something extraordinary underneath the mundaneness of life, regardless of one’s belief.

The second Spanish song that Zabala chose was a lullaby called “A la nanina nana” by Jose Ramon Gomis and arranged by Madison opera pianist Scott Gendel. She sang this song with the other soloist Nathaniel Stampley.

Stampley is a Milwaukee native and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Stampley is a Broadway performer, and DeMain said that Stampley had managed to get a week off of his current performance to come to the symphony.

Before performing the lullaby with Zabala, Stampley had sung a powerful rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” arranged by Dan Forrest in the first act. The Madison Symphony Chorus joined him at the end.

Before welcoming the Mount Zion Gospel Choir for the last three songs, DeMain spoke about the sentiment of “peace on earth and goodwill to men.” He said that it is unfortunate that there is not peace everywhere and that we should be better at “goodwill to men.”

The choir then sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” with music arranged by Mark Hayes. The Madison Youth Choirs, Madison Symphony Chorus and the soloists all joined together in song.

The Mount Zion Gospel Choir then came out for the 17th year. The eight members sang with the entire orchestra and got the audience clapping to the song by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker, “Do You Hear what I Hear?”

Per tradition, the performance concluded with a Christmas carol sing-along to several classic songs. The orchestra and chorus put on Santa hats and reindeer ears, as did many members of the audience.

The performance ended powerfully with all of the choirs and audience singing together, making everyone feel like things could be back to normal this Christmas season.