Bruce Hangen, the Portland Symphony conductor who helped establish the series, returns to Portland to reset the tradition.

Bruce Hangen has some news: The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” concert is going to back to its roots.

That might be good news for some longtime fans of the orchestra, who have quietly lamented subtle changes over the years that have slowly stripped the annual holiday concerts of some of its … magic. Hangen conducted the orchestra for years and was music director when then-general manager Russ Burleigh suggested the idea of a holiday concert.

That was in 1980, and the orchestra has hosted these concerts every Christmas season since, reinventing them season after season in hopes of hitting just the right holiday notes to keep the seats (mostly) full while not repeating itself too much from an aesthetic or artistic perspective. The idea has always been to keep it familiar, but fresh.

Inevitably, the program crept farther from its roots. Hangen hopes to reset it.

“The original concept was a ‘back home for Christmas’ kind of thought,” Hangen recalled. “I am going to bring back the down-home flavor and the tradition-oriented Christmas program that we used to do back in the day. I think a lot is going to be different. There will be some visiting of contemporary music, but I think a lot of what I feel is traditional music, sacred and secular, will be back on the program.”

Bruce Hangen launched the “Magic of Christmas” shows in 1980.

Hangen, the orchestra’s musical director from 1976 to 1986, is the artistic director and conductor of the Orchestra of Indian Hill in Littleton, Massachusetts, and director of orchestral activities of the Boston Conservatory. He is among the guest conductors helping the orchestra transition from its decade-long stewardship under maestro Robert Moody to that of his replacement, Eckart Preu, who begins his duties next season.

Hangen will conduct all 12 of this year’s “Magic of Christmas” concerts, which take over Merrill Auditorium the two weekends before Christmas, beginning Dec. 14 and concluding Dec. 23. He also conducted a PSO classical concert in October.

This year’s “Magic” guests include soprano Elisabeth Marshall and the Windham Chamber Singers, as well as the 100-member Magic of Christmas Chorus. Marshall is a past member of the Windham Chamber Singers, and she now makes her professional life on stage, singing across the country and overseas, and in the classroom where she teaches voice at Ithaca College School of Music in New York. She formerly taught at the University of Southern Maine and has sung with Opera Maine, the Maine Music Society and the PSO as a previous “Magic of Christmas” guest.

This year’s program is indeed familiar and includes Handel’s “Rejoice” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah!,” Robert Shaw’s arrangement of “Many Moods of Christmas,” the march from “The Nutcracker” and the orchestra’s spirited version of “Sleigh Ride,” along with a holiday sing-along.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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