It’s December, so it must be time for Holiday Pops at Boston’s Symphony Hall!
As has been the tradition for years, the Boston Pops will be spreading the spirit of the holidays with their gift of music. Boston Pops musicians will practically pitch tents to take up residence at Symphony Hall, performing as many as three concerts a day as they give 37 holiday performances in just 19 days.
This season, the Boston Pops is celebrating big. Still part of the Boston Pops 125th Anniversary, the holiday season has some special events, including its 27th annual “A Company Christmas at Pops” fundraiser on December 15th, which included “30 Rock” actress Jane Krakowski (who I still remember from Ally McBeal!), and American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle.
During the first three performances of the holiday season, the Boston Pops welcomed GRAMMY® Award winner Jim Dale, who many kids know as the voice of the Harry Potter audio books. Dale was tapped to narrate and record Jan Brett’s beautifully-illustrated The Night Before Christmas.
I was in Boston for a few days, and my first stop was Symphony Hall to celebrate the 2010 Holiday Pops. Just as last year, I attended the second performance of the season, the matinee, but unlike that performance, this had a packed house. THAT was great to see! Symphony Hall was festively decorated, and during each piece played by the orchestra, lights shone against the organ pipes, illuminating warmth in colors of green, blue, red, pink, purple and more. Tis the season and it made it all so jolly!
I spoke with Maestro Keith Lockhart prior to my arrival in Boston and asked him about the upcoming holiday concert season. In his 15 years with the Pops, he has conducted more than 500 holiday performances, and I asked how they were able to keep it fresh, and how to keep both the musicians and himself engaged with more than 30 concerts in fewer than three weeks.
Lockhart said, “ The key is a great repertoire and the ability to cycle through different arrangements. A lot of it comes down to realizing that we’re performing for the audience and if you do something like 50 days in a row, or 50 concerts in a row, it’s obviously hard to do. Always realizing that the audience is largely hearing what you do for the first time makes you want to do it for them, and I think that’s part of the essence of performing.”
I also asked if we could expect anything new from the Pops this year. Lockhart said, “In some ways, this is a concert that kind of goes back to our roots. We’re still part of the the 125th anniversary celebration, so in a way, we’ve kind of gone back to some of the great arrangements created for the Pops over the years, including LeRoy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, which hasn’t been performed in Symphony Hall for about 20 years.”
Lockhart continued, “We’re also premiering a new song called Bring Them Home (performed by King and Goodman), which has to do with our thoughts about our service men and women in uniform in points around the globe, and making sure that we understand that as we all sit comfortably around the fire, they don’t have the opportunity to do that.
We are featuring two wonderful gospel artists, Renese King and Gabrielle Goodman who will be alternating during our concerts in Symphony Hall. They are both exceptional performers, soulful and exciting, so it’s going to be sort of a kind of R&B feel to Symphony Hall this Christmas.”
I saw Renese King earlier this year during the Pops 125th Anniversary concert honoring the Kennedy brothers and then again during the 4th of July concerts on the Esplanade. At both concerts, she premiered/sang Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s We the People. During the Pops performance on the 8th, King premiered Bring Them Home as well as joined the Pops for My Lord, What a Morning – Rise Up, Shepherd – Glory Hallelujah, among others. What I love about Renese’s voice is that while she can clearly belt out a song, she never over sings. If anything, I sometimes wish she was mic’d just a little bit louder. She was, without question, wonderful and I was happy to see and hear her once again performing with the Pops.
Santa made a stop at Symphony Hall too! As he joined Maestro Lockhart on stage, the Maestro wanted to make sure it truly was Santa, and not an imposter, so he had a bit of his own checklist for Santa to prove he was the real deal! Much to my delight (and surprise!), Maestro Lockhart then sang Must Be Santa to assure us all that the man with the cap on his head, the beard that’s white and suit that’s red MUST be Santa! That sure was fun, and I’d never heard that song before. Who knew the Maestro could sing?
The Tanglewood Festival Chorus always sounds spectacular, and the Boston Pops musicians sounded superb. We were treated to holiday music we were familiar with, like Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, and Do You Hear What I Hear, and we heard pieces less familiar like Pat Hollenbeck’s lovely Tomorrow is My Dancing Day and Children Go Where I Send Thee. And we got to sing along with the Pops during Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Holly Jolly Christmas, and Frosty the Snowman. Such fun!
Sitting in Symphony Hall once again, I was reminded of the magic of this institution and of this Hall. There with Keith Lockhart at the podium, the third Pops conductor in the past 80 years, I was surrounded by history and the love and beauty of music. The Pops will be performing 37 concerts in less than three weeks, and when the day is over, it’s only about one thing…the music!
Pairing orchestral music with the holidays, we are surrounded by memoires. We are immediately transported to a moment of happiness as we hear the snare drum, the trumpet, the bells, the piccolo, or the flute, and we can’t help but feel peace. Maestro Lockhart tells us that it is his furtive hope that we leave Symphony Hall with more spirit of the holidays within us than when we arrived at the Hall. My hope is that people connect with the music on an artistic level as well. That as they listen to the violin, the cello, and the French horn, they see the art behind the sounds that warm our hearts, recognizing that this magic is created out of a love and passion for music.
The 2010 Holiday Pops Season takes place from December 8th through the 26th and there are a number of children’s performances throughout the season. Learn more about the Boston Pops at www.BostonPops.org.
Happy Birthday Beethoven! 240 years, and still going strong!
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