Holiday Pops Concert Promises Variety

Award-winning conductor Andrew Constantine began his musical studies at a young age and has spent his life honing the skills needed to bring out the best in musicians.

As Music Director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, he’s about to conduct the annual Holiday Pops concert for the first time.

“It’s a mainstay of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, something the community has loved for decades and looks forward to every year,” he says.

The Philharmonic will perform the program in five cities in Northeast Indiana. In Fort Wayne, the production will be performed six times over two weekends at the historic Embassy Theatre, 125 W. Jefferson Blvd. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and 2 p.m. Dec. 19.

Highlights of the program include traditional Christmas songs, dancing, visits from Santa and Mrs. Clause, a carol sing-along, and Handel’s rousing “Hallelujah” chorus. Lyric soprano and stage actress Lisa Vroman will be guest vocalist.

“The program almost chooses itself, with traditional and well-known Christmas classics that have a wide appeal, as well as involvement by Fort Wayne’s Children’s Choir and its Dance Collective,” he says.

Constantine will also include a Christmas Overture by English composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whose music has received more exposure in recent years.

“Knowing Coleridge-Taylor had this gorgeous overture, I wanted to be sure to include it. I thought it would be a ‘first’ for Fort Wayne, but how wrong I was! It seems this wonderfully gifted composer, who was born of mixed race in 1875 and tragically died at the young age of 37, is already a firm favorite of our audience.”

In 1904, on his first tour of the U.S., Coleridge-Taylor was invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. It was rare for a man of African descent to receive such an invitation. His music was performed widely throughout the U.S. and he sought to integrate traditional African music into the classical realm.

The world of performing arts was “devastated” during the past 18 months of pandemic and venues and artists have been wondering about peoples’ readiness to return to the theater, he says.

“Our audiences are very sophisticated and know how to get life going again while being very cooperative and concerned for each other. We’re just pleased to be back on stage, performing live music for live audiences,” he says.

Constantine’s goals for the coming season include working more closely with Purdue University at Fort Wayne, with other local arts organizations and with churches performing Christmas specials. He’d also like to partner more often with the Fort Wayne Ballet.

Although his main residence is in Baltimore, Constantine spends three to four months each year in Fort Wayne to lead the Philharmonic.

“There will always be a core of loyal and dedicated listeners and followers of classical music,” he says. “But how we choose to present the music will always be changing. Some people struggle listening to classical music, but others come to classical music concerts to take time for themselves and reflect. Classical music requires involvement from the listener to be open and receptive. You have to participate when listening to classical music, rather than letting it come at you.”

Constantine speaks to audiences about the music to help them know what to listen for and to provide background on the music piece and its composer. The conductor’s job is to connect the musicians with the music and also the audience with the music, he says.

“The audience’s energy creates a synergy with the performers, like an electrical current. Musicians feed off the audience and will feel what they are feeling, whether the crowd is large or small. And the audience can feel if the musicians are pumped up. I like to be that person who makes it all happen.”

Born in Northeast England, Constantine learned to play the cello as a child. At the University of Leicester, he studied music, art, history and politics, and later was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in music.

Reading a library book about British conductor and cellist John Barbirolli helped Constantine to discover his own passion for conducting. He studied with British conductors John Carewe and Norman Del Mar in London and with Leonard Bernstein in Germany. He founded the Bardi Orchestra in Leicester and performed throughout Europe.

A scholarship took him to the Leningrad State Conservatory in 1991, where he studied with legendary Russian conductor llya Musin, whom he describes as the strongest influence of his conducting career.

“He taught me how to influence sound by first creating the image in your head and then transferring it into your hands. Extracting your own ego from the situation as much as possible is the only true way of serving the music.” ❚