Boston Pops Holiday Show Great Fun for All Tastes (4.5 Stars)

2012 Holiday Pops. Conducted by Keith Lockhart; With the Tanglewood Festival Chorus; Through December 24th at Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Avenue Boston.

The 2012 Holiday Pops – The Boston Pops Holiday Show – does for the Christmas season what the Pops does for Boston’s Fourth of July celebration every year. It brings a healthy dose of popular classical music with a big, talented orchestra to an audience that doesn’t spend a lot of time in concert halls, mixes in enough pop culture to keep it from becoming too serious, and delivers the package with a big smile – and since its Christmas – with a big red bow to boot.

After an opening number, conductor Keith Lockhart took the time to acknowledge the national tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut to keep things in perspective before launching into a spirited version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” as sung by the all-volunteer Tanglewood Festival Chorus, followed by the Hallelujah Chorus. He then included a nod to Chanukah with a “Festival of Lights” medley (with “Dradle, Dradle, Dradle thrown in for good measure). Lochhart next led the orchestra in a beautiful rendition of “Waltz of the Flowers” from the “Nutcracker” (which brought me back in a near flashback to Walt Disney’s “Fantasia”), which was followed by a lovely instrumental version of the Christmas Song, which was just as heartfelt even without Mel Torme (who wrote it) or Nat King Cole crooning it. The orchestra finished the segment with Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” (written in 1880). Lockhart then brought on powerful baritone James Demler to sing “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” before the intermission.

The second half of the show opened with a rousing “Holly Jolly Jingle” by the Tanglewood Chorus, followed by guest conductor Caitlin Walsh of Roslindale, who led the orchestra (including Lockhart on what can only be described as “wood slapping” special effects) through some Christmas tunes. Walsh, a senior at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, received the honor for her work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Teen Council and the concerts that they performed at venues like Rosie’s Place in Cambridge, the women’s homeless shelter.

Demler returned with a terrific version of “Christmas Is a Comin'”, a song popularized by The Kingston Trio in the sixties, before launching into the beautiful “Mary, Did You Know?” an emotional 1984 song about the birth of Christ that was a hit for Kenny Rogers & Wynonna Judd. Demler then used his booming voice to animate “A Visit from St. Nicholas (“Twas the Night before Christmas”). The reading was accompanied by illustrations by Jan Brett, the children’s author /illustrator who has over 37 million books in print. The images were projected on a movie theater-sized screen and really brought the reading to life, along with the Pops’ musical accompaniment.

Of course, no Christmas show would be complete without a visit from Santa himself, and a fat and jolly version of Saint Nick was brought to the stage, much to the delight of children in the audience. After another blast of lively Christmas songs, Lockhart closed out the show with a high energy sing along that included Christmas faves “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “Winter Wonderland”. This was my first time attending a Boston Pops Christmas show, and it’s an experience that anybody with an interest in seeing a full orchestra in an elegant setting should not miss. Especially at Christmas.