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Holiday Concerts, Both Traditional And Non-Traditional

December 6, 2012 4:47 p.m.


Kate Hatmaker, executive and artistic director, Art of Élan; violinist, San Diego Symphony.

George Varga, pop music critic, U-T San Diego.

Related Story: Holiday Concerts, Both Traditional And Non-Traditional


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: It's either one of the best things about the holidays or one of the worst. It's Christmas music! You can hear it in the malls and the elevators and even on hold buttons. But there's actually a huge range in holiday music quality. So we thought we'd bring you a sample of some of the most interesting Christmas carolling going on in San Diego. Joining me with their selections are my guests, Kate Hatmaker is artistic director of art of Elan, and violinist with the San Diego symphony.

HATMAKER: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And George Varga, pop music critic thea UT San Diego. Hello.

VARGA: Hi, thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: We should note the passing of jazz legend of Dave Brubeck at age 91. He's known for the signature song Take Five. What was he like?

VARGA: Incredibly down to earth. Unaffected. Often in the arts you find that truly creative people who are pioneers in their field often tend to not be full of themselves and tend to be the exact opposite of the arrogant, aloof artiste. And Brubeck was definitely that. He grew up on a farm in Stockton. So there's nothing pretentious about him.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Take Five is like the classic jazz song for people who don't even think they like jazz. It really defines a whole sort of sound, a whole generation of jazz, doesn't it?

VARGA: It does. And Brubeck was particularly noted for his use of odd time signatures, blue Rondo ala turk was partly in nine/eight, and there were a number of songs in his cannon where you would find time signatures that were extremely unusual, or never heard in contemporary music outside of classical music. The funny thing about take five is it's credited of being composed by Paul Desmond who was the saxophonist in his quartet. Yes in interviewing Dave, the drummer came in with his part first, and the song was built on that. And the saxophonist had some ideas but Brubeck put them together and added things. I said is it ironic that Paul is credited as the composer? And he said, no, we were a nice bunch of guys. And I thought that captured his spirit really well. The all-time biggest selling jazz single on one of the biggest selling jazz albums in history, and nobody was fighting about who got the credit for it.

CAVANAUGH: That's pretty amazing. Dave Brubeck, dead at age 91, sad news take. Now, a jazz take on Christmas classics. Of Matt Wilson performs here Friday. What can you tell us about him?

VARGA: Well, Matt is a -- one of the finest and most adventurous drummers in jazz based in New York, has played with all of the greats. He is a very accomplished band leader in his own right. And about two years ago, he formed a group called Christmas trio, TREEO. And they take songs that we are all familiar with, winter wonder land to you're a man one, Mr. Grinch, and the Hawaiian song Mele Kalikimaka, and make them over in a way where they're relevant to the original but taking it to a fresh new ground at the same time. Let's let our listeners hear what we're talking about.

(Audio Recording Played)

CAVANAUGH: So this is serious jazz music with a real sort of sense of humor for Christmas, isn't it?

VARGA: Absolutely, which is I think what is needed to make it appealing to people who might be ready to run out of the room screaming.

CAVANAUGH: When I hear the first couple notes of the chipmunk song, right?

VARGA: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Friday at the athnium studio on park in university heights. It wasn't be the holidays without the nutcracker. Why is it such a favorite?

HATMAKER: I think it encapsulates all of the magical elements of the holiday season with a bit of fantasy, hope, mystery, and in the end lots of love and joy.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you're performing with the San Diego symphony. What do you enjoy about performing the nutcracker music?

HATMAKER: For me, it's great to be able to actually play this piece because I think it's becoming increasingly rare in ballet companies across the country to have a commitment to a live professional orchestra. And that's part of what's so great about the California ballet production here. But what I enjoy about the music is sort of discovering different elements of it every year. Most of us hear a lot of these -- the more famous selections on the radio. But there's so much clever music that Tchaikovsky wrote. So every year, I think, oh, I don't remember that from last year. And it's nice to rediscover these moments.

CAVANAUGH: Just about every dance company in San Diego and some who come in are actually performing the nutcracker this time of year. The California ballet's production has a live orchestra as you mentioned. What else makes this version unique?

HATMAKER: Well, this is their 40th anniversary season. And I believe that makes them the oldest ballet company here in San Diego. So they really figured out how to present a topnotch production. And it's everything from the choreography to the costumes to the set design, and to have this human orchestra in the pit, I think it really is important for the audience to have and experience all those different elements.

CAVANAUGH: This one does not feature any student dancers though. ; is that right?

HATMAKER: No, there's a professional choreographer and professional dancers, I should say. And I believe this year there's a guest dancer from the ABT who's coming in.

CAVANAUGH: American ballet theatre.

HATMAKER: Exactly. So I think it'll be a very special production this year.

CAVANAUGH: George El Vez returns to the Casbah for his holiday show.

VARGA: He is a San Diego native, born Robert Lopez, who became a member of the pioneering San Diego punk rock bank can have the zeros in the 1970s. Moved to LA, had an epiphany and decided he would become the Mexican Elvis, which I think happens to a lot of people when they move to LA.

VARGA: So he created the Mexican Elvis persona which he's been doing now for 24 years. So songs we might all remember or be fond of have been reconfigured so that hound dog is now you ain't nothing but a chihuahua.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, dear!

VARGA: And GI blues and GI aye aye blues!

CAVANAUGH: Any holiday songs?

VARGA: Yes, there's a whole album that he did, a Christmas album. Instead of white Christmas, brown Christmas, Poncho clouds, orange is for Christmas, which I believe is a wry allusion to how you used to come off the freeway in LA is how there would always be somebody selling a bag of oranges, and Feliz Navidad, but El Vez kind of mashed it up with a sex pistols song.

CAVANAUGH: What else! We have a clip from El Vez.

(Audio Recording Played)

CAVANAUGH: The San Diego symphony presents a kind of -- I think this is an interesting, different kind of a take with its holiday pops concert. There's an Irish theme this year.

HATMAKER: Yes, there is! And Eileen Ivers will be joining the San Diego symphony for an evening of joyful Irish songs for the season.

CAVANAUGH: And what is she known for?

HATMAKER: She's a grammy-award winning 9-time Ireland fiddle champion.

CAVANAUGH: When you're a fiddle champion in Ireland, you're really a champion!

>> I would imagine!

CAVANAUGH: What songs are we going to hear?

HATMAKER: Some of the Irish holiday favorites will include the holly tree, one night in Bethlehem, hark the Harold, angels sing, which I believe is going to be done in traditional jig time along with the Wexford carol, and a lot of traditional favorites as well.

CAVANAUGH: There's also a special evening dedicated to members of the military.

HATMAKER: For the fifth year in a row now, the San Diego symphony will dedicate a special performance on Sunday, the 23rd, that's taking place within the regular holiday pops weekend. It's an honor to the military families many of whom have maybe never experienced a live musical performance.


HATMAKER: And I believe there's a number of people in the community Ashford university being one of them who have underwritten these tickets for these families. So it's truly a wonderful way for everyone to be able to enjoy the spirit of this holiday season.

CAVANAUGH: We have a couple minutes to go into a couple of other picks, but we're gone sahave to do a lightning round here, okay? Candles by candlelight is this weekend. What can you tell us about this?

VARGA: It'll be Friday and Saturday evening at California center for the arts Escondido. This'll be the 23rd year. It was founded by Steve Voss who had won a grammy award under the name buck howdy and lives in North County. It's fairly country music oriented. They have had Leanne Rhymes and Billy ray Cyrus. And this year, they have BJ Thomas, and buck howdy will be rounding off the bill. And all the benefits go to Rady Children's Hospital.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was 40 second, thank you! And Sacra Profanna will perform handle's Messiah.

HATMAKER: Well, they are a relatively new choral group to the San Diego arts scene, founded a few years ago by Christian Oberoi, and they have a real commitment to representing fresh takes on traditional repertoire, as well as new works.

CAVANAUGH: You're performing with them. Is this a very busy time for musicians?

HATMAKER: Extremely busy! I think there's probably a different kind. Event going on almost every night in December. So musicians are literally all over the place. But it's a fun time of year as well. And yes, I will be performing with Sacra Profana and a few of my colleagues up in Fallbrook. I think it'll be a really fresh take on the Messiah.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you both very much.

VARGA: Thank you.

HATMAKER: Thank you, Maureen.