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Concert review: Boston Pops Performs a Magical Holiday Show

Soloist Kathryn Skemp Impresses With Enchanting Voice

By Jillian Berry

Holiday Pops

Boston Pops Orchestra

Edward Cumming, guest conductor

Keith Lockhart, conductor

Symphony Hall, Boston

Dec. 12–29, 2005

Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to see the Boston Pops Holiday show. Every year, the Boston Pops (conducted by Keith Lockhart, although our performance was conducted by Edward Cumming), get into the holiday spirit with almost continuous performances throughout the month of December. These shows are a treat for the senses, as Symphony Hall is decked out for the holidays with garlands, lights, and giant snowflakes on stage. The music is intermixed with holiday readings from Rabbi Avi Weiss to Mark Twain to create a magical evening for all to enjoy.

To begin, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus opened with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and was soon joined by the Pops performing “Christmas Canticles” (arr. O’Loughlin). After a few welcoming remarks, the show really took off with “O Holy Night” (Adam/Clappeau/Dwight-Courage) sung by Kathryn Skemp. She stole the show with her divinely pure and operatic voice. Similar to Sarah Brightman, and as beautiful as her music, Ms. Skemp can only be described by one word — extraordinary. After extended applause, the show continued with more wonderful music.

I particularly enjoyed the reading of “Thoughts on Hanukkah by Rabbi Avi Weiss” and the accompanying “Hanukkah Candle Blessings” (arr. Binder/Jacobson) and “Drey Dreydelekh” (trad.-Jacobson). These songs contained multiple solos for the concertmaster, who proved worthy of his title. He played the violin more like a fiddle, and with every note his body danced with movement.

In addition, the pairing of an excerpt from “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (Thompson/Frost) was mesmerizing. The dark and looming melody was perfected by the eerie solos of the harpist. Yet, somehow the piece was wonderfully fitting for this enchanted evening, and it was one of my favorites, although I may be partial to it since I play the harp.

With the second half of the show came more traditional and upbeat pieces such as “Sleigh Ride” (Anderson/Parish-Goldberg) and “A Merry Little Sing-Along” (arr. Reisman), in which the audience was invited to sing along to an arrangement of traditional Christmas songs (with the words magically projected onto the giant snowflakes on stage).

Two songs really stood out in the second half of the show. First, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (Reisman) was performed as Ms. Skemp lent her voice to the famous “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” (Clement C. Moore). Though she was not singing, the audience was nevertheless impressed by her deep rendition of Santa Claus yelling “Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!”

My second favorite piece was the “Santa Medley” (arr. Meader), which featured an arrangement of “The Man with the Bag,” “Santa Baby,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” “Santa Baby” amazed the audience with its flirtatious lyrics and showed how the world class Pops can still have fun. In addition, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” brought a special surprise visit from the big man in red, Santa himself. Following the music, the conductor and Santa had a comical conversation about Rudolph being nominated to the Supreme Court (yes, at the Pops). The best line was when the conductor asked what Rudolph’s opinion was on Roe vs. Wade, and Santa replied “reindeer will not even go near the water.” Though corny, the skit was wonderful, and laughter flowed from the entire audience.

My friend and I were in seats that offer a small menu of appetizers, desserts, and wines. The food was actually reasonably priced with most desserts under $5. We ordered French apple tart ($4), an ice cream sundae ($4.50), and a pitcher of Pops Punch ($6 pitcher/$2.50 glass). The tart was quite good, with a crust that was like a mixture of pound cake and a traditional pie crust. But the apples were a little soggy, as the tart was not as fresh as it could be. The ice cream came pre-prepared, so it took a little while for the whipped cream and chocolate fudge to thaw before we could eat it. Finally, the Pops Punch was a nice mixture of fruit juices and lemonade that was not overly sweet and provided a great beverage while watching the show.

Overall, the evening was lovely with fantastic music and humorous entertainment. Even if you can’t make the holiday shows, try to find some time to see the Pops while you’re in Boston. They really are an amazing orchestra; though formal, they are not uptight, and though world class, they are not pretentious. If only for one night, all will seem right with the world.