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As the festively clad audience entered Symphony Hall Monday night, one noticed that their dress, ranging from matronly Talbots sweaters with snowmen appliques to seafoam green taffeta evening gowns, was almost as varied as the Boston Pops' holiday program, Holiday Pops. With their program ranging from the traditional "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" to "Feliz Navidad" and everything in between, the Holiday Pops concert missed nothing, short of Santa descending to grant your every holiday wish. And while he didn't grant the audience's wish for a longer concert, Santa did make cameo appearance in the middle of the Christmas Carol sing-a-long to the delight of children and adults.
As Santa urged the children (and adults) that "there's more to life than computers," waiters passed out candy canes to children of all ages. While the neon-illuminated classical statues lining the balcony were a bit much, the enormous wreath strung from Symphony Hall's ceiling and the luminous projections of ornaments, snowflakes and candles, which adorned the backdrop of the stage, enhanced the holiday ambiance.
At times during the performance, the orchestra's rhythms seemed jolted and their phrases choppy. In addition, the trumpets botched an entrance and the intonation between the flute and oboe was something less than desirable With the upper strings seated on the outside of the stage on both sides of the conductor, the imbalance of the string section was frequently overpowering.Traditionally, the cellos occupy the outer ring to the right of the conductor, and the Pops' alternate arrangement meant that the vocalists and soloists in the wind section were occasionally drowned out. But these were minor details, virtually forgotten through listening to the undulating dynamics of the orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, under the direction of John Oliver.
Keith Lockhart, the Pops' young conductor, was as vibrant and witty as ever, cracking jokes and poking fun to ensure that all had a good time. The program was obviously not chosen to display the works of Mozart, Dvorak and Debussy, but rather to draw all types of people together in search of the audience's enjoyment. As Lockhart remarked prior to playing Duke Ellington's jazzy rendition of the Nutcracker, "This is like nothing that you have ever heard before." And he was right. Ellington's take on the "Sugar Plum Fairy," renamed "Sugar-Rum Cherry," was a superbly performed combination of sultry saxophone, drums and strings that left the audience amazed.
A newly commissioned arrangement of "A Christmas Song," written by the late Mel Torme, was a touching, beautiful addition to the program. However, the highlight of the concert was certainly the musical arrangement of Dr. Seuss' Yuletide classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Narrated by Will LeBow, a local actor with the American Repertory Theatre as well as the voice of Stanley on the animated series, "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," the entire audience was chuckling with laughter remembering the childhood tale. The concert concluded with an audience sing-a-long to holiday standards such as "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Note: The evening performance on Friday, Dec. 17 with Martina McBride, Take 6 and soprano Kelly Kaduce will be taped to be aired later on WCVB-TV Channel 5 and A&E Television Networks. Performances after the Christmas holiday will include the Gloria dei Cantores, directed by Elizabeth Patterson.
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