Mannheim Steamroller, performing two concerts Saturday at Strathmore, is in a class by itself. Created more than 30 years ago, the group that revolutionized the synthesis of classical compositions with rock rhythms and recorders, flutes and harpsichords with electric bass and synthesizers is still the best around for conjuring the grandeur of the season.
The group's first holiday album, 1984's "Mannheim Steamroller Christmas," and 16 additional Christmas albums and compilations have made the group the top-selling Christmas music artists of all time with more than 27 million albums sold in this genre alone.
"I remember when I created 'Mannheim Steamroller Christmas,' " recalled Chip Davis, who co-founded the group. "I took it to all the major buyers and distributors ... showing it off and playing it for people and the first thing out of their mouths was 'This is a Christmas record; that'll never work.' "
But Davis's determination to sell the music paid off, as he notes, "[W]ith 9 million copies sold of that one record [alone], we can look back and say, 'Well, we were right -- you can successfully market Christmas music.' "
|Mannheim Steamroller Christmas|
|» Where: The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda|
|» When: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday|
|» Info: $25 to $95; 301-581-5200; strathmore.org|
With Mannheim Steamroller's sheer number of recordings, it would appear the group never leaves the studio, but -- hardworking beyond belief, Mannheim Steamroller began its 27th Christmas tour on Nov. 15 this season and continues on with what will be a 90-concert tour through Dec. 30.
The tour's principal players include Chuck Pennington, Jeff Yang, Tom Sharpe, Glen Smith and Joey Gulizia with instrument sections that feature strings, bass, woodwinds, percussion and keyboard. Nine local musicians will supplement the group onstage with strings, brass and woodwinds.
"The show consists of a collection of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music created by Chip Davis, including the most recent CD release, 'Christmas Symphony,' " noted a member of the group's production team. "There are 21 songs in the program [such as] 'Greensleeves,' 'White Christmas,' 'Little Drummer Boy' and 'Carol of the Bells.' " The feast for the eyes comes in the form of video, fog and haze.