CENTERPIECE: Musical magic with David Arkenstone

David Arkenstone


“I love performing at holiday time,” says composer-musician David Arkenstone. “People are almost always in a great wintery mood during the holidays. If they’re not, it’s our job to put them in the mood.”

Shepherding busy, stressed-out people into a warm, wintery frame of mind.

That’s the primary goal of “David Arkenstone’s Winter Fantasy,” an elaborate touring show he’s bringing to the Mystic Theatre for one night only on Dec. 22. Accompanied by a band of World Music all-stars, Arkenstone’s semi-theatrical concert takes place in front of an enormous, hand-painted Snow Queen-inspired backdrop, by artist Anna Steinbauer. The music itself, chosen to capture winter-time flavors from numerous cultures and countries, will include Arkenstone’s unique orchestrations of popular Christmas tunes, and a number of other surprises.

“I would say that if you are not in a Christmas mood when you show up,” Arkenstone laughs, “then this show will definitely push you right over the edge.”

Arkenstone’s Grammy-nominated compositions have graced video and online games such as World of Warcraft and televised sports programs like NBC’s coverage of the Kentucky Derby. He’s produced more than forty albums of music, in a style he likes to describe as “soundtracks for the imagination.” Think of it as a blend of instrumental keyboard-pop like Manheim Steamroller and ethereal soundscapes that would not be out of place in a Cirque du Soleil show.

Over the years, Arkenstone has recorded with such storied labels at Windham Hill, Narada and Green Hill, producing dozens of albums, from “Valley in the Clouds,” “The Celtic Book of Days,” and “Music Inspired by Middle Earth,” to “Celtic Chillout,” “The Fairy Garden,” and “Beneath the Darkening Sky.” Along the way, he’s released several holiday albums, too, including his brand new “Native Christmas.”

The concert in Petaluma will blend some of his favorites from past albums, with new versions of classic melodies and songs.

“I kind of designed the show to be this thing where we play a lot of songs from around the world, with a few well-known Christmas songs and holiday songs sprinkled through the evening,” he says. “There are going to be songs people know very well, that have been arranged specially for this tour, with some medleys of favorites that I think will put the audience in a very good, very wintry mood.”

Though known for his electronic work on the keyboards, the multi-instrumentalist Arkenstone says the show will begin with a totally unplugged set, the artists swapping melodies in a casual approximation of sitting in a living room or a neighborhood bar with a bunch of musicians.

“The unplugged set is always a lot of fun,” Arkenstone says. “There’s nothing epic or bombastic, like some of the other stuff I’m known for. It’s more intimate, like playing in a small pub. We’ve got some really old songs from the 1500s. We’ve got some versions of songs you’ve heard and songs you’ve never heard. Then, later in the show, we’ll to do some of the big, showy stuff.”

Though Arkenstone is skilled at playing the violin, flute, accordion, and many other instruments, he says he will mostly be playing keyboards and guitar for this show.

“People have heard so much ‘traditional Christmas music,’ so with Winter Fantasy, we tried to do something completely different with some of that old familiar stuff,” he says. “We’ll do “Snow Dance,” a piece that I wrote back when I was recording with the late, great Windham Hill. That one goes really well with this show. We’ll do some Celtic inspired songs. And there’s a version of The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy that’s pretty wacky.”

A big theme in the show — exemplified by that “Snow Queen” painting looming upstage of the musicians — is snow, something Arkenstone has associated with Christmas since growing up in a small twon outside of Chicago.

“We moved to California when I was 10, and it was a huge change,” he says. “Our first year here, at Christmas, we got in the van and went to beach. That was kind of weird. It’s more difficult to establish a good winter Christmas mood when it’s 75 degrees out.”

To help out in that regard, Arkenstone and his merry troupe of music makers will be bringing the next best thing to snow at Christmas.

“The music we play,” Arkenstone says, “it’s pretty magical.”

As magical as snowfall on Christmas Eve?

“Maybe even a little more so,” he says.

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