Holiday Pops brings its seasonal cheer to Symphony Hall

December 6, 2017 at 11:14 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Keith Lockhart and Santa Claus at the Holiday Pops concert Tuesday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Robert Torres

Keith Lockhart and Santa Claus at the Holiday Pops concert Tuesday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Robert Torres

The holiday season is here, and this month is filled with a wide variety of concerts aimed at putting people in a cheerful mood. 

By far the most popular concerts of Boston’s Christmas season are the Holiday Pops programs, which opened Tuesday night at Symphony Hall. Featuring the Boston Pops and its energetic, longtime conductor Keith Lockhart, these lovingly entertaining shows are filled with heartwarming holiday favorites.

The highlight of the program was a new work based upon Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by popular composer and arranger, Don Sebesky. The story of Scrooge’s transformation from money-grubbing miser to altruistic human is a familiar one, and Sebesky’s tuneful score delivers palpable drama. Woven from strands of Christmas carols, the twenty-minute piece for narrator, chorus, and orchestra has the emotional immediacy of a film score. Ghostly wails in the chorus captured the voice of Jacob Marley, bright, bucolic fiddle music set the dance scene at Fezziwig’s party, and sweeping melodies conjured the Cratchit family’s hearty Christmas celebration.

Narrator Will LeBow delivered the truncated story with colorful voice and conviction, and the accompanying illustrations and animation by P. J. Lynch and Gene Mackles bathed the overhead screen in tasteful browns, reds, and greys.

In this work and in the zesty shorter pieces that made up the program, the Boston Pops played with live-wire intensity. The openning “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” was a vibrant fanfare, and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” had rhythmic bite despite its big-band scoring. Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride is a Pops favorite, and Tuesday’s reading set the air spinning with buoyant energy. The Final Waltz and Apotheosis from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker provided a lyrical musical moment.

A few pieces involved colorful arrangements of traditional tunes. Rob Mathes’ God Rest Ye Merry Kings was a propulsive, Mannheim Steamroller-like mix of two beloved carols. But no Holiday Pops program would be complete without the Twelve Days of Christmas. David Chase and Sebesky’s popular arrangement riffs upon carols and classical favorites that range from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Saint-Saëns’s The Swan to themes from The Nutcracker and the Can-Can, which humorously featured Lockhart performing the dance himself on the podium. 

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, prepared by James Burton, was smaller in number than it has appeared in recent seasons, but the group sang with radiant tone and crisp diction. 

The most cheerful singing, perhaps, came from the audience, who was invited to sing along to carols in the program’s closer. Tunes such as “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” sent the crowd home with a spring in their step, all the merrier for the experience.

Two encores provided additional treats. A jazzy rendition of Frosty the Snowman featured dazzling lines from clarinetist Thomas Martin, and “White Christmas” brought additional holiday warmth and splendor.

Holiday Pops runs through December 24 at Symphony Hall.; 888-266-1200

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Holiday Pops brings its seasonal cheer to Symphony Hall”

  1. Posted Dec 07, 2017 at 3:09 pm by Bruce Kozuma

    Our (TFC) numbers are pretty standard this year. The packing on stage is as it has appeared in previous years.