Carmel Symphony Orchestra Promises Exceptional Concerts This Holiday Season!

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Oct/Nov 2023

Masterworks 2

The Palladium // Saturday, Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. ET

Holiday Pops

The Palladium // Dec. 10

Sunday, Dec. 10 – 3 p.m. ET

Sunday, Dec. 10 – 7 p.m. ET

The holiday season will soon be upon us, and the Carmel Symphony Orchestra is full speed ahead with preparations for two of its most anticipated concerts: Masterworks 2 and Holiday Pops! CSO’s regular patrons already know the tickets for these concerts sell quickly, so don’t wait to purchase your tickets at

I had the honor of speaking with the two guest conductors, David Commanday and Paul Langford, who will be joining CSO’s exceptional musicians for these upcoming concerts.

Additionally, I spoke with CSO Executive Director Anne Marie Chastain about the guest artists who will be performing with CSO and her wish to build community through the symphony this holiday season.

A Program That Promotes Unity and Honors Our Veterans

The Masterworks 2 concert will be a powerful program featuring an evocative performance of Valerie Coleman’s “Umoja, Anthem of Unity.” This CSO performance will weave together intricate melodies and rhythms inspired by African and African-American musical traditions, creating a celebration of unity and cultural richness. Following that will be the graceful melodies by Maurice Ravel’s “Tombeau de Couperin” and Charles Ives’s “Variations on America.” CSO symphony musicians will tackle this innovative and daring exploration of the American national anthem. With its surprising twists and turns, Ives challenges the conventional boundaries of orchestral music.

Lastly, the program will delve into William Grant Still’s groundbreaking “Afro-American Symphony, No. 1.” This pioneering work, the first symphony by an African-American composer to be performed by a major orchestra, exudes a profound sense of pride and identity. Its blend of African-American folk themes with European classical forms showcases the rich cultural tapestry of America.

“We want to provide the audience with an amazing artistic and emotional experience when they come to hear CSO,” Chastain expressed. “Our Veteran’s Day concert [November 11] is an annual performance that is very popular, and this year, we have added a new piece to the program in partnership with the Great American Songbook Foundation. Guest artist J’lan Stewart was one of the students who participated in the 2023 Songbook Academy and is from Kokomo, Indiana.”

Chastain shared that Stewart will be singing “The Impossible Dream.”

“That’s kind of the promise of America,” Chastain stated. “To support young people with a dream and the veterans who fought for freedom so that people can live their lives and express themselves [freely]. I feel like supporting an Indiana artist who went through the Songbook Foundation and will be singing with the orchestra is something to celebrate in our community.”

Carmel Symphony Orchestra Holiday Season

J’lan Stewart shared that he is currently studying musical theater and human services at Ivy Tech Community College. He plans on becoming a professional singer and actor.

“My greatest goal is to become an inspiring person that people look up to in the world,” Stewart said. “I would like to give thanks to God, who is the head of my life, along with my mother. I would like to say, ‘There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.’”

Joining the CSO for the Masterworks 2 concert will be guest conductor David Commanday, who conducted CSO’s opening concert of the current season. Renowned on three continents, Commanday is known for having a vital connection with musicians and audiences. Currently, Commanday is Artistic Director and Conductor of the Heartland Festival Orchestra, Director of Orchestral Activities and Instructor of Cello at Eastern Illinois University, and Music Director of Youth Music Illinois. A graduate of Harvard University, the cellist was a principal at Tanglewood under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, Seikji Ozawa and Aaron Copeland. He has held faculty positions at Harvard University, Boston University and MIT and is currently an artist in residence and on the adjunct faculty at Eureka College. He also founded the Eureka College Summer Arts Festival, now in its fourth year, and directs a prestigious chamber music series on campus.

Carmel Symphony Orchestra Holiday Season

“The [Carmel] orchestra is playing wonderfully,” Commanday said. “I truly appreciate the spirit of this [Veteran’s Day] program and the meaning of it at this time. We always need to honor our veterans because of all that they do, give and risk. Music, of course, is a great medium for the expression of the sometimes unspoken things … and deep sentiments. This program is actually a love letter to America and has a theme of unity.”

Commanday added, “The [Carmel] Symphony is delightful and I’m excited about how this [program] will all come together as an experience for the audience. Every concert is an adventure, just as every piece is a journey. When you combine them into a concert experience, you’re making something that unique, and I think this program will delight and reward the audience.”

Celebrating Community with the Holiday Pops Concert

At this year’s CSO Holiday Pops concert, get ready to be enchanted by the talents of Ben Davis, Amelia Wray, the Indiana Ballet Conservatory and the Second Presbyterian Choir. Special guest Mayor Jim Brainard will also be accompanying the CSO French horn musicians.

The concert will be led by guest conductor Paul Langford. A Chicago-based singer, arranger, keyboardist, producer and conductor, Langford has a career that spans over 25 years. His works have been performed by vocal and instrumental groups all over the world, including The Chicagoland Pops, West Michigan Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Voices of Liberty, GLAD, Willow Creek Community Church, multiple Disney parks and many orchestras around the nation. He has been a vocal and piano guest artist in studio and live performances with several headline and Grammy Award-winning artists, and he’s been honored to perform for former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama. Langford is an in-demand music educator, clinician, guest conductor, respected band and vocal ensemble leader, and invited singer with orchestras and a cappella groups across the globe.

“It is interesting, the last time I [guest-conducted] this orchestra was during the pandemic,” Langford recalled. “We were on stage, but there was no audience. We were live-streaming, and it was so strange to be performing to an empty room. I am looking forward to having appreciative people in the seats enjoying the music … it’s going to be great. [The Palladium] is an incredible venue that is visually appealing and beautiful-sounding. It’s a darn near-perfect venue, in my experience. For performers and audience members alike, it’s an aesthetically thrilling experience. Whoever was involved in building and designing this place did a great job!”

Langford concluded, “The [Holiday Pops] program has a tremendous variety of music. There’s a lot of classic Christmas music like ‘Sleigh Ride’ by Leroy Anderson and ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ by one of our guest singers, Amelia Ray. ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ will be sung by another guest soloist, Ben Davis. The variety is a mixture of old and new, and it’s going to be changing every four minutes so it will be really entertaining and exciting! There’s something for everybody in the show.”