, Salem, MA

December 5, 2013

Sounds of the season

Hillyer Festival Orchestra performs five distinct shows this month

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — The Hillyer Festival Orchestra isn’t just playing on the North Shore this month, they’re touring it, with five concerts over the next nine days in Peabody, Danvers, Marblehead and Swampscott.

They will lift holiday spirits while featuring different soloists and programs almost every night, and two of their concerts will also raise money for important causes.

It all starts Saturday at 8 p.m. in the same place that the orchestra itself began 16 years ago: Peabody City Hall.

“Peabody City Hall founded the orchestra, with me and Peter Torigian, in 1998,” Hillyer said. “So, we always give them the first weekend.”

The soloist for the Peabody performances, Rebecca Robins, is currently appearing in “Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway and was also in “Cats” in Philadelphia.

“She’s tremendous, and she’s going to be singing some Christmas songs, of course,” Hillyer said. “She’s also going to do a song from ‘Cats,’ ‘Memory,’ which has beautiful orchestration.”

Along with a number of Broadway songs, the concert will feature some movie songs, including “Where Are You, Christmas?” from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Also, the Peabody High School choir is going to be there and end up with a grand finale,” Hillyer said. “They will be featured on their own with ‘Magnificat’ by Durante, a baroque composer from the early 1700s.”

Hillyer, whose primary instrument is French horn, will also accompany Robbins on guitar for a few numbers.

“We’ll also give a tribute to Hanukkah and then have traditional sing-alongs,” he said.

The Peabody concert will be repeated Sunday at 5 p.m., and a few of its Broadway tunes and sing-alongs will also be performed at the Danvers concert on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“But we have a different soloist,” Hillyer said. “Renese King has soloed with us before and has come back for a return engagement. She’s a winner of the Boston Music Award for Gospel Artist of the Year and has sung with the Boston Pops many times.”

King has arranged a series of songs that include “Who Would Imagine (That Jesus Would Be King)” and “Light a Candle,” which celebrates Hanukkah.

“One of the big ones she’ll be doing is ‘Ring the Bells,’” Hillyer said. “By the time she says, ‘Ring the bells,’ the bells will be ringing.”

The Danvers concert will feature plenty of sing-alongs for the families who always attend, dressed in red and green, he said.

This is the 10th year that The Hillyer Festival Orchestra has played the Danvers concert, which is a fundraiser for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

“We provide services for about 2,600 people a year,” said Rebecca Haag, executive director. “In Lynn, the office served about 1,000 lunches to people living with HIV but who don’t have the kind of resources they need.”

The program provides everything from testing and screening to legal services for patients living on the margins of society.

“If we give them support, they can stay on their medications,” Haag said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

“We’ve seen a reduction in HIV cases in Massachusetts of 52 percent since 1999. That’s $2.4 billion saved in the health care system,” she said. “But we’re still seeing 600-plus new infections every year.”

Funds raised at events like the Hillyer Orchestra concert are crucial, Haag said, because over the same period, state support for the program has been cut from $52 million to $32 million.

The Marblehead concert, held the following Saturday, will feature solos by Rebecca Kenneally, head of the performing arts department at Endicott College.

“She’s a local favorite, a singer, conductor, performer and director,” Hillyer said. Kenneally will perform some of her favorite Christmas songs at Abbott Hall.

As with all the concerts this season, there will also be a selection of songs from Broadway shows and Hollywood movies.

Another soloist, baritone Colin Levin, will join the orchestra for its final concert in Swampscott.

“He’s recently returned from doing opera in New York City and Charlotte,” Hillyer said. “He’s an appealing guy with a voice that will shake the rafters.”

Levin won’t be singing opera at this concert, on Sunday, Dec. 15, at Swampscott High School, but seasonal classics like “Holy Night.”

“And then sing-alongs and movie music,” Hillyer said. “This year, one of the themes is movies, and Broadway is central.”

The concert is the second fundraiser The Hillyer Festival Orchestra has performed for The Listening Place, which provides counseling services in Lynn.

Songs for children will include “Somewhere Out There,” from the film “American Tale,” as well as music from “Polar Express.”

The orchestra’s arrangements at all of its Christmas concerts feature trumpet and oboe solos, in addition to vocalists.

“This is really in the tradition of the pops,” Hillyer said. “It’s great orchestral stuff. It’s just like the Boston Pops without the parking hassles.”

If you go What: Hillyer Festival Orchestra Holiday Pops Concerts When and where: Saturday, Dec. 7, 8 to 10 p.m., Peabody City Hall, 24 Lowell St., Peabody. Dinner served 7 p.m. Tickets $30 balcony chair seats, $40 balcony table seats, $45 orchestra table seats, at 978-538-5704. Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 to 3 p.m., Danversport Yacht Club, Danvers (fundraiser AIDS Action Committee) with catered lunch, Santa photos, Santa's workshop prior to concert. Tickets $75 VIP patron, $50 adult, $25 children (free with purchase of adult ticket at Honda North), table of 10 $450. Visit Sunday, Dec. 8, 6 to 8 p.m., Peabody City Hall, dinner served 5 p.m., tickets same as for Saturday's show. Saturday, Dec. 14, 8 to 10 p.m., Abbot Hall, Marblehead. Floor seats $50, using order form from Rotary Club of Marblehead Harbor, at Balcony seats $35 online at, or in Marblehead at Arnould Gallery and Framery, 111 Washington St.; Marblehead Bank, 21 Atlantic Ave.; National Grand Bank, 91 Pleasant St.; and, Spirit of '76 Bookstore, 107 Pleasant St. Sunday, Dec. 15, 3 to 6 p.m., Swampscott High School, 200 Essex St., Swampscott (fundraiser for Listening Place, Lynn, counseling and mental health). Adults $35, children under 16 $15. With raffles, silent auctions, refreshments. Tickets at 617-207-1959, information at 617-593-1690 or visit