Seasoned concertgoers and first timers alike joined together for an afternoon of Holiday music on December 10th at the Buell Theatre. The 4:30 p.m. performance of the creative group, Mannheim Steamroller was packed full and the theatre erupted with the unique sounds of Christmas!
Mannheim Steamroller is a group of veteran performers and composers who have excelled in their art. With over 40 million albums sold, they have traveled around the world sharing their love of Christmas music. Because of growing demand for this unique ensemble, they now have an east and west coast touring group. We were fortunate enough to enjoy the musical stylings of the West Coast Cast, featuring: conductor, pianist, keyboardist and percussionist, Chuck Penington, concertmaster, violinist, and recorder player Jeff Yang, Glen Smith on bass, lute and guitar, Tom Sharpe on drums, percussion and recorder and Joey Gulizia on percussion.
The evening began with a pre-recorded welcome from creator and founder of Mannheim Steamroller, Chip Davis. He expressed his happiness at seeing families of many generations making Mannheim Steamroller concerts a part of their holiday traditions and, as he wrote in his program welcome, “But the most important tradition to everyone at Mannheim Steamroller is being with you tonight.”
Many people are familiar with the music of Mannheim Steamroller, weather it be from hearing them on the radio, seeing them on countless television programs including PBS, Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or just from owning one of their multiple recordings. But their live performances are a unique sight to be seen.
The music of Mannheim Steamroller is greatly centered on electronic manipulations of sounds, and uses the combination of traditional orchestral instruments paired with more unique sounds like the lute or recorder. On top of these many unique sounds, Mannheim then partners their performances with visual attractions, ranging from lights and fog to short video stories. For some this adds an extra element and level of depth to the performance, while others would prefer just to hear the music rather than have so much extra stimulations going on. It’s all a matter of personal preference!
While the beginning of the concert started a little slow, everyone in the orchestra seemed to build up energy about half-way through the first half when they played the electronic rendition of Faeries, from the “Christmas Extraordinaire” album. With the unique bight green lights almost adding an alien-like effect to the stage, audiences seemed to perk up right away.
After intermission, Chip Davis made another appearance on screen wearing a mask that resembled something Iron Man might be seen in. A comic genius he is not but, nevertheless, he did get a chuckle out of the audience. The second half of the program featured many pieces based off of Renaissance music, which was accompanied by different time period videos of feasts and celebrations taking place at a castle.
The program ended with one of their most well-loved tunes, Carol of the Bells, and they were immediately brought back on stage for an encore by an entire audience up on their feet. Their encore included a very nice collection of facts about the group including the number of countries they’ve visited, number of albums released etc…and also had clips from their many different performances. It was exciting to see just how well traveled and experienced this group really is, plus it was fun to see some of the 80’s style haircuts and outfits!
All of the core members of Mannheim Steamroller are extremely talented. All of them play multiple instruments and have to know how to use different electronic kits and toys. Glen Smith was fantastic with the lute, which is a stringed instrument resembling parts of a mandolin and guitar. But the star performer of the evening was without a doubt, percussionist Joey Gulizia. Joey spent the majority of the concert behind the electronic drum set, waving his arms and twirling his sticks. The heart of a rock-star he most certainly has, and he brought plenty of energy and excitement to the stage!
Mannheim Steamroller is a one-of-a-kind group that is worth seeing live. They’re not afraid to play loud and proud, so bring your ear plugs if you’re planning to sit near the front! With years of experience behind them, a visible love for performing Christmas music, and a creativity that looks into the future, Mannheim Steamroller is a wonderful group that will get you in the holiday spirit in no time!