By Jay Lustig / Dec 9, 2019
The Boston Pops capture every sound and story of the season—with an assist from Governor Murphy
There are many different kinds of holiday music. And The Boston Pops plays most of them.
In the orchestra’s holiday shows, says longtime conductor Keith Lockhart, “We range from classical to rock and jazz and pop, and we range from the sacred to the secular. And we try to make sure there’s a moment in there that everyone in the audience thinks was programmed just for them.”
The Boston Pops On Tour: Holiday Pops concert will be at NJPAC at 4 pm December 15.
The show features a choir in addition to the orchestra, and has certain traditions. These include the reading of the classic poem “A Visit by Saint Nicholas,” better known by its opening line: “ ‘Twas the night before Christmas….” The piece is often read by a guest celebrity. At this performance, Governor Phil Murphy will return to NJPAC to read the piece.
Still, the musical selections can change quite a bit from year to year.
“People come year after year, and there’s always a balancing act,” says Lockhart. “They want tradition: They want things that happen year in and year out. They want the same kind of feelings when they come back.
“But they, of course, don’t want a cookie cutter concert from the previous year. I think we do a pretty good job of striking that balance, and I hope the audience agrees.”
One addition to the 2019 show is a segment devoted to “The Polar Express.”
“We use Alan Silvestri’s music from the (2004) movie — and the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg, who did the original book — with a narrator, of course, and the orchestra,” says Lockhart. “We’ve done similar things with everything from Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ to ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ to the original Christmas story.”
Lockhart has been the conductor of The Boston Pops since 1995. He took over from John Williams, who had held the position from 1980 on. Before Williams, Arthur Fielder led the orchestra from 1930 until his death in 1979.
The orchestra itself was founded in 1885 as a kind of sister organization to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which had come into existence four years earlier.
While Lockhart has a long way to go to beat Fielder’s half-century record, his 24 years in the position is not too shabby.
“People who were brought as kids (to the holiday show) when I started are now coming and bringing their kids,” he says. “It’s kind of an intergenerational thing.
Lockhart says he conducts about 50 holiday concerts a year — mostly in Boston’s Symphony Hall — and has been to NJPAC “quite a bit” with the show. ”We were there, like, 12 or 13 years in a row, from right after (NJPAC) opened. But then there was a drought. We’re thrilled to be coming back. It’s a great hall.”
He says one of the big changes for him as the conductor of the show, over the decades, has to do with the constant growth in the number of arrangements of holiday songs available to him in the orchestra’s library. “There are probably five or six new ones a year,” he says. “We’re always looking for new expressions, new settings of things. We’re always saying, ‘What don’t we have?,’ basically.”
Another change has to do with technological innovations that have enabled him to add multimedia elements to the show.
“When I started doing these concerts – indeed, up until 10 years or so ago – there was virtually no multimedia in them,” he says. “No video pieces, none of that sort of thing. But technology has changed so radically. That’s one of the reasons we haven’t toured ‘Polar Express’ before: Because the cost of bringing these projections around to all these different places made it prohibitive.”
Lockhart, who grew up in Wappinger Falls, N.Y., says he’s a lifelong fan of holiday music — as long as it’s not of the Muzak variety.
“I love the season,” he says. “I like what these concerts bring to people, especially when things seem as fractious as they do right now. People having a chance to not only enjoy themselves, but meditate a little bit on things that are hopeful and forward-looking — as opposed to mired in where we are — is a good thing.
“Some years it seems more valuable than others, and this year seems like one where we might ‘need a little Christmas,’ as the song goes.”
Need to get into the spirit of the season? Here are more holiday offerings at NJPAC:
The acclaimed National Ballet Theatre of Odessa offers a traditional take on everyone’s favorite holiday ballet. It’s an opportunity to enjoy once again – or experience, for the first time, the wonder of — Tchaikovsky’s classic score and the original choreography by Marius Petipa, with lavish sets and costumes. December 14 at 2 and 7 pm in Prudential Hall.
The Hip-Hop Nutcracker
This perennial NJPAC favorite, which also tours nationally, adds a high-energy urban twist to the timeless tale, with rap pioneer Kurtis Blow serving as MC, and explosive breakdancing instead of the usual ballet moves. It comes to Prudential Hall at 7 pm December 20 and 2 pm December 21, which is the same weekend as NJPAC’s 20th annual Kwanzaa Festival and Marketplace, featuring arts and crafts, music, dance and vendors catering to holiday shoppers.
Experience the magic of the season in a totally new way with this dazzling, futuristic, Christmas-themed “cirque,” featuring acrobats, aerialists, holograms, lasers, computer animation and more. Performances are at 3 and 7:30 pm December 28 at Prudential Hall.