The Boston Pops bring cheer to the holiday season

The Boston Pops and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus perform under the direction of Keith Lockhart on Dec. 1. Courtesy Hilary Scott / Boston Symphony Orchestra
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Symphony Hall was buzzing on Dec. 9 as the Boston Pops took the stage for the eighth time in as many days, in a tradition that now dates back nearly half a century. The Boston Symphony Orchestra offshoot, performing in a string of holiday concerts now through Christmas Eve, showed no signs of fatigue in their first of two concerts on Friday, as they played through the two hour show with gusto and holiday glee.

The program, which has been noted for its musical diversity, featured 14 pieces celebrating Christian and Jewish holiday traditions and the various ways they’re recognized throughout the world. Perhaps the most poignant portion of the performance came in the penultimate song of the program’s first half when the orchestra and chorus together played a pair of Ukrainian Christmas carols in a tribute to the country’s ongoing struggle against Russia.

The group’s longtime conductor, Keith Lockhart, prefaced the Ukrainian music by telling the stories of the pair of songs’ origins. The latter of the two pieces, “Carol of the Bells,” might now be heard across holiday displays like the one in the Boston Seaport, or in malls throughout the country. However, its composition lies in 1914 Ukraine, where the piece was first played in a sold out national tour, Lockhart said.

The sold out crowd applauded with noted enthusiasm at the piece’s conclusion, a sign of the audience members’ recognition of the Ukrainian music’s added import this holiday season. The ovation brought the performance’s first half into its final act: the world premiere of the orchestral work “Noche de Posadas,” a musical accompaniment to a children’s book of the same name. The book’s images were projected onto a screen that hung behind the Tanglewood Festival Chorus at the back of the stage, and its words were read aloud by Melinda Lopez.

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The performance was a nod to the late children’s author Tomie dePaola, who collaborated with the Boston Pops in the later years of his life, and whose book recognizes the nine-day Mexican holiday tradition in the lead up to Christmas. From Dec. 16–24, the religious festival honors Joseph and Mary’s travels toward Bethlehem, where Mary eventually gave birth to baby Jesus.

The piece’s inclusion in the Pops’ program was one example of Lockhart’s promise to diversify the annual holiday concert tradition. In another example, the program’s fourth piece“Drey Dreydeleh” comes from the Klezmer musical tradition of Eastern Europe’s Ashkenazi Jews. Lockhart invited the audience to clap along and dance in the aisles.

The second half of the program opened with an energetic rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The choir accompanying the orchestra provided the fun here, elevating numbered signs in time with the music to align with each mentioned “day” of Christmas. The choir’s choreography only added to the hall’s festivity, which already was decked out in wreaths, traditional Christmas lights and red and green spotlights.

Perhaps the most exciting portion of the concert for the younger ones in the audience was the appearance of Santa Claus, who walked in the side door on the orchestra level and made his way up to the stage to greet Mr. Lockhart. After engaging in a brief conversation about holiday cheer, Santa made his way down and ventured through the crowd, greeting kids and posing for pictures while the orchestra continued its performance.

For anyone looking for a break from finals, or even just a way to get into the holiday spirit, the Boston Pops know how to bring it.

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