25 Years of Omaha's Favorite Tradition: a Q and A with Ernest Richardson

Saturday, December 11

Maestro Ernest Richardson has been leading the Physicians Mutual Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration for 25 years—we asked him for his reflections on this special show.

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Preparations for the Physicians Mutual Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration, which opens Thursday, December 16 at the Holland Center, are in full swing! This one-of-a-kind show comes together long before the holiday season, however. In fact, Omaha Symphony Resident and Principal Pops Conductor Ernest Richardson, Director and Broadway Choreographer Parker Esse, and Omaha Symphony artistic staff begin their planning almost a year in advance.

2021 marks a return of the Christmas Celebration to live audiences after last year’s broadcast-only show; it also marks Maestro Richardson’s 25th year as the musical mastermind behind Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition. The show began in 1997 and was known by several different names: first, it was called “Holiday Fanfare,” then in 2006 was re-named “Christmas with the Symphony” until 2015 when it became “the Physicians Mutual Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration.” Whatever the name, it has been uniquely shaped by the Maestro and a much-beloved tradition for families across the Omaha metro.

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We chatted with Ernest about the show he's spent years leading, how it has grown into its current form, and what makes it special:

Q: How long have you been directing the Physicians Mutual Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration?

A: I've been at the helm of the Christmas show since its very inception, which is my entire tenure with the Omaha Symphony.

Q: What is your favorite memory from previous concerts?

A: This is a tough one to answer, but I would say one of my favorites was in 2019, when my son Liam appeared in the Finding Christmas musical, for which I wrote the story.

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Q: What do you think makes the Physicians Mutual Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration special to the Omaha community?

A: First and foremost, it is the Omaha Symphony. There is nothing like hearing a live symphony orchestra play the music of the season. The Broadway singers and pacing of our program make the experience unique. The addition of local stars like Résonance and students from the Omaha Symphony’s own Anne Nagosky’s studio makes is personal to Omaha.

Q: Tell us about the conception of the Omaha Symphony’s Christmas show; how did it begin? How has it grown over the years?

A: The key element of growth of the Omaha Symphony's Christmas show is moving from a relatively static concert version of Christmas music to a high-production-value Broadway-paced show full of spectacular singing, dance, costumes and beautiful lighting, all in collaboration with your symphony orchestra.

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Q: What elements need to be in the show every year to make it what it is?

A: First and foremost, the Omaha Symphony. Christmas is as much a concept as it is a day. We search for meaning during this time and find it in many ways—in family, in presents and decorating, in romance and snow, with Santa and the elves, and at Bethlehem. The result of the search is joy and connectedness and it has a soundtrack. The Omaha Symphony supplies the soundtrack and our audience connects to this soundtrack of meaning, to each person's unique experience.

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Q: Tell us about your collaborators for this show: what do they add? What unique artistic vision do they bring?

A: All of the collaborators provide valuable contributions. The single collaboration that is most important for creating the show is our director and choreographer, Parker Esse. His sense of pace, light, costuming, and experience—the series of stories within a larger story framework—make this concert unique and extraordinary. The singers and dancers bring their own spark and inspire Parker to elevate the program to the highest levels.

Q: What was it like to have the program be fully remote last year? What was special about that? What was missing?

A: The great thing about our fully remote production was the number of people who were able to hear and see their Omaha Symphony in the celebration of Christmas music. What was missing was the personal contact, the connection between performer and audience, the connection between performer and performer, the embrace that occurs when people come together—that is the essence of the human experience in general, and the joy of celebrating Christmas in particular.

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