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Katie’s home for Christmas

Soprano sensation soars
by Christopher Key

There are a number of reasons why many of us get humbugged by Christmas music at this time of year. First, it seems to start sometime in September and by the time the holidays arrive, it’s wearing thin. Second, those insipid elevator arrangements are enough to drive Santa Claus up the wall. Third, it’s because we don’t get to hear Lynden’s Katie Van Kooten sing them. Her astonishing voice would bring new life to the most annoying commercial jingle and make you want to shout, “Bravo!” I don’t use exclamation points lightly.

Van Kooten enthralled an audience with carols familiar and unfamiliar at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center this evening. It was a fundraiser for the Bellingham Festival of Music and it was nothing short of thrilling. Van Kooten’s voice has been compared to that of Kiri Te Kanawa and it’s not even remotely hyperbolic. There is a richness of tone that is normally associated with contraltos, but Van Kooten maintains it even when soaring in the soprano stratosphere.

Photo credit: Sussie Ahlburg

Photo credit: Sussie Ahlburg

She was accompanied by Brett Strader at the concert grand and Krista Strader on the harp. These musicians are definitely playing in Van Kooten’s league and were consummately professional. My only gripe was that the concert grand often overwhelmed the harp and that was a grave disservice. Krista Strader is one of the top harpists in the world and during the one number she did with Van Kooten without the piano, her playing was nothing less than angelic. That is in no way meant to be a criticism of her hubby’s prodigious talents as an arranger and accompanist. The harp should have been miked.

Speaking of angelic, Van Kooten was backed on several numbers by the Celestial Voices, a group of eight- to ten-year- old young ladies who are part of the music program at Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth. If they were nervous about sharing the stage with a performer of Van Kooten’s status, it didn’t show. However, I am willing to bet that not one of them will ever forget it. Their professionalism is a tribute to BAAY impresario David Post, who conducted them. I hope no one will ever take for granted the miracles that Post accomplishes with his young charges.

Van Kooten performed many holiday favorites with the grace and warmth that have made her an international star. Toward the end of the concert, she also demonstrated that she is equally at home in the jazz idiom. Her take on “The Christmas Song,” and “White Christmas” must have made Tormé and Berlin very proud.

I recently performed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in a program of Christmas songs and stories and am seriously contemplating retirement after hearing Van Kooten’s version. It is very humbling to hear a true superstar make that number her own. There were times during the concert when her voice made every hair on my body stand on end and I expect that my goosebumps may be permanent.

One of the few disappointments about last summer’s Bellingham Festival of Music was that Van Kooten only had a very brief solo in Brahms’ Requiem. This concert made up for that by letting us hear our homegrown diva in all her glory.

Since this was all about the Bellingham Festival of Music, it’s important to know that they’ve announced their 2010 season. You can check it out at www.bellinghamfestival.org and you’d better get your tickets now. The BFOM was sold out for most of last season and deservedly so.

And if you ever miss a chance to hear Katie Van Kooten, just shoot yourself.

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