The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps (LGBAC) Symphonic Band wished us “Felices Fiestas” with its spirited “Holiday Celebration with a Latin Twist,” on December 8 at Symphony Space. NBC 4 New York’s Raphael Miranda hosted, explained the “big blend” that is Latin musical style, offered the coming week’s weather forecast, and described LGBAC’s mission as “promoting equality, peace, and love through music.” Rafael Hernández’s “El Cumbanchero,” arranged by Naohiro Iwai, was the boisterous and exhilarating rumba that opened the concert and introduced us to LGBAC’s new South Africa-born Music Director Henco Espag, who hailed his colleagues here, numbering “114 strong.” In Julie Giroux’s “The Drummer Boy’s Bolero,” the musicians blended a gentle “Little Drummer Boy,” the holiday carol, with the sinuous strains and insistent rhythm of Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.” Brandon Nestor was the corps’ guest steel drum soloist for a fiery, driven, and upbeat “Caribbean Sundance,” by Toshio Mashima.
LGBAC’s Festival Español,” by Gene Milford, proved a now sunny, now dusky, exotic evocation of Spain. LGBAC Assistant Conductor, Concertmaster, and clarinetist Francis Novak led the band in a rousing medley of Mitch Leigh’s title song; “Dulcinea;” and “Impossible Dream,” from “Man of LaMancha,” in Justin Williams’ arrangement. Corps President and 37-year-veteran trumpet player Joe Avena saluted Marriage Equality icon Edie Windsor, who was present with her new wife Judith Kasen, for her donation of $15,000 for uniforms for new members of the Corps’ Marching Band, led by Marita Begley, and bidding the band to stand, declared, “This is what the sound of freedom looks like!” José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” arranged by Tom Wallace, with percussion arrangement by Tony McCutchen, was the merry close of the first half of the concert.
To begin the evening’s second half, the musicians limned a wild and woolly, heated and bustling King’s Road, in Alfred Reed’s “El Camino Real.” The players made the listener want to get up and dance to its zesty “We Wish You a Mambo Christmas,” in Erik Morales’ edition. LGBAC and Espag treated us to the premiere of his arrangement of Flory Jagoda’s monumental, haunting, and clangorous folk ode to the miracle and traditions of the Festival of Lights, Sephardic-style, in “Ladino Hanuka.” Impassioned conga, salsa, and mambo made up Robert Sheldon’s “Danzas Cubanas.”
The Corps concluded by inviting the audience to sing along with “Joy to the World,” “Deck the Halls,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Silent Night,” and “Jingle Bells,” in Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival,” transcribed by Robert W. Smith and ending with an instrumental “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The encore, a sing-along as well, was Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”
LGBAC returns to Symphony Space, at 2537 Broadway, at 95th Street, on April 8, 2017 at 8 p.m., for “Once Upon a Time … The Soundtrack to Our Story,” “an evening of music and LGBTQ story-telling in collaboration with the Generations Project.” Visit www.lgbac.org
for further information.