With selections for each of the 12 days of Christmas, the longtime Spokane Symphony guest conductor compiles some of his favorite holiday music

click to enlarge Take the conductor's advice in building the ultimate holiday playlist.
Take the conductor's advice in building the ultimate holiday playlist.

1. TCHAIKOVSKY: "WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS" FROM THE NUTCRACKER

I look forward to conducting the Nutcracker ballet every year. I've been so fortunate to conduct so many performances of this lush and exciting Tchaikovsky score with the Spokane Symphony and the State Street Ballet. The Fox is a truly magical setting for this annual tradition. Incidentally, I first heard this particular selection from the ballet in a Japanese car commercial.

2. ELLINGTON: PEANUT BRITTLE BRIGADE (AFTER "MARCH" FROM THE NUTCRACKER)

Speaking of the Nutcracker, I love Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's take on the Tchaikovsky, as evidenced here.

3. BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 9 IN D MINOR, "CHORAL"

Another Spokane Symphony holiday tradition that also dates back to my childhood. There is a long tradition of performing Beethoven's Ninth in December in Japan. The messages of joy, struggles and ultimate triumph over them, and universal humanhood will be especially powerful when James Lowe conducts this piece on New Year's Eve.

4. CORELLI: CONCERTO GROSSO OP. 6, NO. 8 IN G MINOR ("THE CHRISTMAS CONCERTO")

My mom started building a basic classical CD library when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and one of the albums was called something like Classical Christmas, which featured this piece among many others.

5. HANDEL: "AND THE GLORY OF THE LORD" FROM THE MESSIAH

Fun fact: This particular chorus from Handel's annual holiday favorite was the very first piece of music I ever conducted. In my junior high school in Japan, there was a tradition of each classroom singing one of the choruses from the Messiah at the semi-annual Parent's Weekend, conducted by one of the students. So it happened in the first semester of my seventh grade year. I was fairly terrible, but somehow I now get to do this for a living.

6. VIVALDI (RECOMPOSED BY MAX RICHTER): "WINTER" FROM THE FOUR SEASONS (MVMT. I) AND ASTOR PIAZZOLLA: "INVIERNO PORTEÑO" FROM FOUR SEASONS IN BUENOS AIRES

Two of my favorites, built around or inspired by Vivaldi's popular "Winter" from The Four Seasons.

7. BÉLA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES: "TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS"

I first had the privilege of working with Béla in 2008 when the SSO worked with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. I worked with them again a few years later in South Carolina, followed by performances of two of his banjo concertos in South Carolina, one of which we co-commissioned. Aside from the consummate virtuosity, I'm always inspired by Béla's (and in this case the Flecktones') incredible sense of groove. I don't usually listen to a lot of "holiday" albums (partly because I find it difficult to separate work and leisure in this line of work), but this album is a sheer delight for me to listen to every year.

8. THE SWEEPLINGS: "WINTER WONDERLAND"

I'm very much looking forward to working with Cami and Whitney and am eager to see how the new orchestral arrangements (made by SSO's own David Armstrong) will bring us all together. I think there's something in their voice and their style that speaks to our hearts.

9. SHE & HIM: "I'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS"

In addition to the aforementioned Flecktones album, I've listened to this album on multiple occasions during the long December flights and drives.

10. YUMI MATSUTOYA: "KOIBITO GA SANTA CLAUS"

Along with Wham's "Last Christmas," this was one of the popular "pop" songs all over the radio in Japan during the '80s.

11. MIKI NAKASHIMA: "YUKI NO HANA"

I'm not sure what it says about me (if anything), but I've always enjoyed these "sappy" Japanese ballads.

12. PINK MARTINI: "AULD LANG SYNE"

Another holiday album favorite. Final fun fact: "Auld Lang Syne" in Japan is associated with graduations, and therefore I always had a bittersweet association with the song, which makes Pink Martini's samba-infused rendition even more striking. ♦

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