Two Orchestras and Two Guest Artists Make for One Special Night at the Symphony

A Swingin’ Christmas with the Symphony
Sioux City Symphony Orchestra
Orpheum Theatre, Sioux City
Saturday, December 14

In order to pull off their Swinging Christmas program—and pull it off they did—the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra called in the talents of father and son trumpeters Vince and Gabriel DiMartino as well as the services of a jazz orchestra that really knows how to bring the swing.  The night included recognizable classics as we remember them, others with a twist, some new work, and not a single snoozer.  Among these were a couple of jazzy Christmas medleys, a favorite from the Christmas program a few years ago, and plenty of the sing-alongs we’ve all come to expect and enjoy. 

The DiMartino boys weren’t the only guests of the night.  Later in the evening, Ron Demers delivered a knock-out reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas. And of course Santa made an appearance. One early piece was even led by red-decked guest conductor Dan Dykstra (so-honored on account of a winning bid in last season’s gala auction).  Mr. Dykstra managed capably enough, but after two years substituting with the baton, I’m sorry to say he has yet to prove himself as Maestro Ryan Haskins’s heir apparent.

But let’s face it: that’s an unenviable task.  Who would want to follow Haskins, who in his eleventh year at the helm continues to put on innovative programs and bring world-renowned guests to Sioux City?  Even in as“traditional” an evening as the annual Christmas program, Haskins—who admits to not being too concerned if you don’t like a piece here and there—manages to imbue Christmas standards with new sound and new life. 

The pieces that sounded closest to the classics we know were “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—featuring Vince—and “The Christmas Song—featuring Gabriel, who played it as close to he could to his godfather and trumpet icon Doc Severinsen’s own rendition.  (But let’s not get too hung up on an impressive pedigree here; the DiMartinos themselves seem to view it as something to be overcome, not exploited.) 

Swinging new variations of old favorites included the medleys, “Whose Child Is This” (performed by the jazz orchestra exclusively) and new takes on “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.”  You might think that you could only accomplish the understated, almost aching feeling of these last two songs by way of a string-led symphony orchestra, but the Misters DiMartino coaxed out as emotive a take on it as you could ever expect. 

Vince and Gabriel DiMartino

Setting aside all the technical achievement and mastery—of which there was an abundance—what surprised me most about the night’s guest artists was the passion and compassion with which they played. There was nothing dueling about this dynastic trumpet duet. They complemented and never competed with each other. Nor did they try to outperform the orchestra. It’s often said that if you want to get a sense of what’s going on in a situation, watch with the volume turned down. While I wouldn’t have recommended that tonight—there was too much good music to miss—the DiMartinos’ manners and movements on stage made clear not only what kinds of musicians they are, but what kinds of people. They are exactly the kind of people you would expect to visit your Sioux City Symphony Orchestra: talented, passionate, humble, and generous. There were enough reluctant bows and enthusiastic deflections of attention to make that clear. At one point, the elder DiMartino stepped kindly out of the way in anticipation of Concertmaster Bacco Liu’s brief but compelling solo on violin. The trumpet and jazz features of the program were a fine fit for the holiday songs selected for tonight. But an even better fit was the personality and spirit of the season—of all seasons—this father and son pair, this family, brought to our Sioux City Symphony Orchestra family tonight. You could see it in their actions, in their interactions, and above all you could hear it in their music.

In yesterday’s lunchtime talk, Vince DiMartino admitted that at this point in his career, he doesn’t want to go anywhere he doesn’t want to go.  Before tonight’s program closed, he said he looked forward to coming back sometime.  Let’s thank him and his son for this visit and hope that they can come again.  But let’s also thank the orchestra itself, its leadership, and its community (that’s us) for fostering a culture that makes such fine artists as the DiMartinos want to come here.  Let’s remind the symphony to be careful too; if it’s not, the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra may develop one of those impressive pedigrees it will have to work hard to shy away from. 

Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who mows his neighbor’s lawn in exchange for piano lessons.