There was a full house, a full orchestra, two harps, diversity in the audience and the orchestra. In the far back the percussion, with the timpanist prominent to the audience right, horns just in front of them, woodwinds to audience left. The background behind was black, and remained so with just a bit of red at the very apex during one number. It was a somber setting.

As Maestro Anthony Parnther, took the podium, I wondered if he would begin with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” a longstanding tradition at the theater.

No, to a hushed California Theater, a quiet sound stole upon those of us waiting, the “Nightmare Before Christmas” by Danny Elfman, played out as a lovely selection, with a recurring theme, prominent strings a ponderous bass under the melodious melody, melancholy throughout.

Next on the evening’s program was the young Angel Garcia, singing, “Remember me,” from the movie “Coco.” He left us wanting to hear more of his lovely soprano voice. His stage presence was excellent.

Renown cellist, Lynn Harrell, took center stage, joining the orchestra in Earnest Bloch’s “Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Solo Cello and Orchestra.” Beautifully played, with Harrell obviously enjoying the orchestral sound when his part was silent. At times his dexterity was something like gymnastics on the strings. There was much sensitivity in the crescendos and diminuendos as the duet with bass flowed along.

Panther announced that he had chosen four movements, his favorites, from Tchaikovsky's “The Nutcracker,” which were very well played, if not really as exciting as some of the complete work.

After intermission Jennifer Holliday took command of the center stage, a golden gown, golden hair half way down her back, softly curled around her face, bringing her golden voice to a medley of well-known songs “One Night Only” and “Dreamgirls” single “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.”

She interspersed her singing with memories of many challenges she had overcome in her life. This vocalist/actress received Tony and Drama Desk awards for best actress in a musical.

Holliday also paid tribute to the late Aretha Franklin who passed away in August of 2018, singing Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer” and “Respect.” The audience cheered so loudly after Holliday’s performance, that she came back on stage to sing “God bless this child” with the symphony’s pianist Clifton Williams, as an extra blessing to the audience before we headed home.

It was, to me, a melancholy moment in time, when one expects the joyful repertoire of Christmas. As its often said, “Expect the unexpected.”

My opinion is that it should have been a more jolly night of music to enter into the holiday spirit, Joy's of Jesus, the “Reason for the Season.”

The next concert will be Jan. 18, 2020. It’s a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.: American Legacy. For information, contact Anne Viricel, or the California Theater, (909) 383-5388, or any member of the San Bernardino Symphony Board.

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