An evening of fun and celebration for folks of all ages at the Blackstone Library

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The closer you get to Christmas, the harder it is to find a big Christmas concert. But there are lots of smaller ones that can be very rewarding. The Wednesday before Christmas I attended “A Winter Holiday Concert, with audience sing-along” at the Blackstone Library, hosted by the Music Teachers of Hyde Park Artist Series.

The basement hall of the library was packed and more chairs needed to be brought it, the room was so full of folks of all ages looking forward to a festive evening.

The concert opened with “Christmastime is Here” (from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”) by Vince Guaraldi with Audra Wilson at the piano. Her performance was as cozy and comforting as a security blanket. She followed this up with her own jazzy and engaging arrangement of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.”

Audra Wilson returned later to offer Gauraldi’s “Skating” (another Charlie Brown work), providing light, airy work at the piano with just the right amount of chilliness.

Pianist Doris Kirschner introduced Josef Myron’s “Autumn Nocturne” by pointing out that the concert was being held on the very last day of autumn. Kirschner had flair at the keyboard with this slightly diverting piece. She took on other works and other roles throughout the concert. She sang and accompanied herself at the piano for two Harry T. Burleigh spirituals. The pain infused in “Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray,” gave way to joy in the Christmas spiritual “Behold that Star.”

When Kirschner introduced “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” (from “Judas Maccabaeus”) by Handel, she noted that it was the last day of Hanukkah. Both singing and at the piano, she was spirited.

Pianist Elaine B. Smith took on Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann’s “Frühlingsnacht” and gave a bright and vibrant performance.

Donna Lee Fackenthal and Dhilanthi Fernando offered a pair of works arranged for piano, four hands. First was the ever-charming “Fantasia on Greensleeves” by Vaughn Williams. There was lovely, gentle restraint and interesting detail. The pair sparkled with the propulsive “Trepak” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

After this portion of the concert, there was a holiday sing-along including long-time favorites such as “Silent Night” and lesser-known pieces such as “Light One Candle” (which some in the audience knew from performances by Peter, Paul and Mary).

A box of small instruments was passed around so that children (and some adults) could participate in addition to singing it. The kids appeared to love it.

It was a marvelous, festive program, hosted jointly with One Book One Chicago (OBOC). This year’s OBOC book is “I’ll Take You There” by Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot. It is an account of the life of Mavis Staples, a major figure in the music of the Civil Rights era.

Upcoming performances of the Music Teachers of Hyde Park Artist Series at the Blackstone Library (4904 S. Lake Park Ave.) include Irene Claude on flute on Jan. 17, “A Musical Potpourri” on Feb. 21, pianist Carlos Schwartz Orellana on Mar. 21, soprano Ariana Strahl and cellist Kelly Quesada on Apr. 18, and pianist Jesus Garcia on May 16.

To learn more about the Music Teachers of Hyde Park, visit their Facebook page.