Album: Winter Symphony
Artist: Jennifer Thomas

Jennifer-Thomas-Winter-Symphony-square-150x150Holiday albums come in a wide range of styles from heartfelt solo piano recordings to more elaborate productions. However, Winter Symphony by pianist, violinist, and composer Jennifer Thomas is practically off the charts in terms of the magnitude of its production. Incorporating a large number of musicians from 3 orchestras, a full choir, as well as art and production staff, the credits alone take up two full pages in the 15-page color booklet that accompanies the album. As much as I would like to, there obviously isn’t room to list them all here, but some of the key collaborators will be mentioned within the span of this feature article. If there is any question as to whether I am overstating the extent of this production, just watch the video trailer that accompanies this article.


But first, lets take a look at the originator and central figure of this project. Jennifer Thomas is aJennifer Thomas classically trained musician and award winning recording artist whose albums have garnered accolades in both the US and Europe – again, too many to list. Jennifer’s music has been heard on films and television networks such as NBC, CBS, Universal Sports, MGM and much more. With a large following on Pandora, Jennifer Thomas has become a favorite among listeners in the cinematic/classical crossover genre. She began playing piano and violin at the age of 5 and went on to earn a degree in music from Brigham Young University. As her career evolved she began to draw inspiration from other sources as well. In our interview, Jennifer shared: “I come from a very classical background, but I also love the cinema.  I wanted to combine the two. I am very inspired by emotional music that makes me really feel something inside. Movie scores do that for me.” So it is no surprise that her influences range from Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy, to film score composers like Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman.


Winter Symphony is Jennifer’s fourth album. Here she describes her motivation in its creation: “Christmas music is really special because it a time of the year when music is actually a huge part of the holiday. And so I think in a lot of people’s minds the Christmas music they listen to has a very special place in their heart. I just really wanted to make a Christmas album that would be around for years that people would return to and listen to around the holidays.” And after hearing this recording, I have no doubt that time will show that she has achieved her goal.


The album encompasses 12 tracks, which are a blend of traditional Christmas songs as well as a number of her original compositions. Jennifer plays piano on all twelve songs, as well as violin on tracks 6 and 9, in addition to arranging the music. While she generally does all her own orchestration, on this project, she chose to work with her long time collaborator and friend Glen Gabriel, who has done an outstanding job on this aspect of the recording. The orchestra is comprised of players from the Utah Symphony, the Salt Lake City Pops Orchestra, and the Chochin Chamber Orchestra. The man behind this last orchestra is none other than new age GRAMMY winner Ricky Kej. The choir was The Ensign Chorus, which included approximately 5-dozen vocalists. The recording of the choir was done at St Edwards Cathedral at Bastyr University.  It was interesting to watch the filming of this in the video trailer, which included Jennifer & choir 2cameras mounted on drones flying around the inside of the cathedral to provide aerial views of the proceedings. The fact that this was recorded in a cathedral is significant as it was important to Jennifer for her album to reflect the sacredness of the holiday.


With that in mind, the album lifts off in heavenly fashion with “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Eschewing any traces of subtlety or understatement this rendition can best be described as “epic.” The symphonic majesty and the  vocal grandeur of the choir combine to create a monumental accompaniment for Jennifer’s elegant and uplifting piano playing on this much beloved Christmas classic. From there we move to a more secular, yet no less traditional holiday song, “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy” from “The Nutcracker Suite” by Tchaikovsky. I appreciated that the piano stands out more in this mix and captures the magic that this song evokes, as well as spotlighting Jennifer’s impressive skills as a classical pianist.


Vocals take center stage on an original composition entitled “Alleluia.” Along with the Ensign Chorus, the featured soloist is Felicia Farerre, whose soaring soprano voice elevates this deeply spiritual hymn to an even loftier level. Jennifer’s love of film music comes to the fore in a grand presentation of “Ice Dance” from the movie “Edward Scissorhands” with music by the aforementioned Danny Elfman. It’s a powerful and moving rendition that ranges from delicate to dramatic. Opening the sprightly Celtic-tinged English classic, “I Saw Three Ships” with a stirring piano introduction, Jennifer makes her violin debut on the album as well, which is equally impressive as her keyboard work. While not from a film score, the piece has a distinctly cinematic quality to it that is quite visually evocative.


Another film related track is the “Theme From Home Alone,” which originally featured music byJennifer & violin the great John Williams. Although the movie was a comedy and the music reflects a whimsical ambiance at times, it is quite a complex composition that is presented beautifully by Jennifer and company as it evolves through its varied movements. Equally gorgeous, yet slightly more subdued is a lovely version of “What Child Is This,” set to the melody of “Greensleeves.” The highlight of this track is a violin solo by Taylor Davis, with Jennifer accompanying her on violin harmony as well as piano and additional orchestration.


If you think you’ve heard the much beloved “Silent Night” before, you’ve never heard it quite like the interpretation of it on Winter Symphony. Following the delicate introduction, the piece remains instrumental until midway, when the choir swells in and raises the roof, so to speak. The album’s title track is another original composition from Jennifer. It is powerful, dynamic, and totally rocks (in a classical/cinematic way) reminding me a bit of the energy of The Trans Siberian Orchestra, but without the electronic instruments. In a nice change of pace, the album draws to a conclusion with sweetly sentimental version of “O Holy Night,” that eventually builds to rousing crescendo to end the listening experience in grand style.


While I have used words like “epic” and “grand” in describing the music on Winter Symphony, it is difficult to adequately portray in writing the majestic quality of this recording. I can’t recall a production this elaborate since David Arkenstone’s Symphonic Adventure, which was featured on a PBS special broadcast. Jennifer and her team have pulled out all the stops to produce an Steinwayalbum of monumental proportion. In addition to her formidable instrumental talents on piano and violin, I was greatly impressed with Jennifer’s skills as an arranger, which with a production of this magnitude is worthy of my utmost respect. And speaking of the scope of this project I must also give great credit to the GRAMMY winning engineer who mixed this multitude of  tracks, Brian Vibberts, whose resume includes working with artists like Michael Jackson, U2, Mariah Carrey, Paul Simon, Celine Dion, and many other top recording artists. Jennifer Thomas has brought together a dream team to breathe life into her vision for this album. Winter Symphony is more than a compilation of songs. It is a musical experience imbued with the true spirit of Christmas, and would make a wonderful addition to anyone’s holiday music collection.




Click the links below to hear samples and/or purchase Winter Symphony:



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