By his own admission, Keith Lockhart has only a day or two left to do his Christmas shopping. Starting Thursday, the Boston Pops and its conductor are about to become very busy indeed, performing 39 concerts in 24 days. By contrast, recent spring seasons have featured a breezy 25 performances over five long weeks. “The difference is, of course, that this is more or less the same concert all the way through,” says Lockhart. “[For] Spring Pops, you’re performing something but working on the next one. Everything just flies at you. This one, once it’s up, it’s a lather/rinse/repeat sort of thing. But it’s about keeping your energy up and keeping the show fresh and realizing that the people who come on Christmas Eve deserve absolutely as energized a show as the people who come on Dec. 1.”
Helping to keep up that energy level is this year’s program, which augments classic Holiday Pops fare with a new work by México-born composer Arturo Rodríguez, a pair of Ukrainian carols, and songs sung in five different languages. It’s in keeping with the Pops’ ongoing mission to celebrate musical diversity, even in something as steeped in tradition as the holidays.
“My second album with the Pops was [1997′s] ‘American Visions,’ and I think it’s a really, really good album,” Lockhart says. “But it’s an album of 75 minutes of American classical music, all of which is by dead white guys. And looking back on it 25 years later, I realized that there are a whole lot of perspectives that got left out.”
Q. You are premiering Arturo Rodríguez’s “Noche de Posadas” this season. What goes into choosing brand new compositions for concerts that are largely about tradition?
A. The inspiration for it was [”The Night of Las Posadas”] by Tomie DePaola, the beloved children’s book author and illustrator. So it’s a little bit of a memorial to Tomie [who died in 2020]. Arturo Rodríguez, we presented some of his carols at the Holiday Pops last year. He lived here for a while and we got to know him then. So he seemed to be the perfect person to do it. We have three different Latina background narrators joining us to do the honors. The narration will be in English and the carols will be in Spanish but subtitled. It should be a great celebration and a great chance for a fiesta.
Q. You’ve included a pair of traditional Ukrainian carols this year. And this is not the first time that I’ve noticed the Pops making what could be read, rightly or wrongly, as political stances. What considerations go into making a decision like that?
A. I think we try to remain apolitical but human and sensitive and dialed into what people are concerned about, what people are thinking about, whom people are thinking about. And no matter how you view what our involvement should be in the ongoing mess in Ukraine, I think it’s a pretty universal sentiment that there are regular people whose lives are being irrevocably damaged by the conflict, and not of their own choosing or of their own fault. They have a huge, specifically Ukrainian, really rich Eastern Orthodox Christmas tradition and a huge vocal tradition there. The one piece that everybody knows is “Carol of the Bells,” which if you find the older recordings of it is referred to as the Ukrainian Bell Carol.
So I said, “Well, there must be more,” and thanks to our friend YouTube, started diving. We have a couple of Ukrainian resources here in town we talked to, too, and came up with another song [”Dobre Vecher”]. Basically, it’s like, “Here We Come A-Wassailing.” It’s “Let us tell you the good news, and while you’re at it, do you have some mulled cider for us?”
Q. You’ve recorded three Pops holiday albums, and all of them include a version of “Sleigh Ride.” Do you intend to keep trying until you get it right?
A. [Laughs] No, we kind of made it as an inner benchmark that every album we did had to have “Sleigh Ride” on it. It’s so iconic in our brand, and people, when they think of the Pops and Holiday Pops, they think of that piece, and they have since the early 1950s. The other piece that people have begun to think has to happen at every Holiday Pops concert is of course “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” But the difference is that “Sleigh Ride” is three minutes long and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is nine minutes long. So between the two of them, one of them does a lot less to upend the programming on the album.
Q. I’m actually dead serious about this: What would it take to get “Weird Al” Yankovic to perform with the Pops?
A. That’s an interesting question. I love Weird Al. I haven’t seen the movie [”Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”] yet. I hear it’s good.
Q. It’s very fun.
A. I was in high school with “Another One Rides the Bus” and stuff like that. So I love his stuff. Actually, that has been in planning lists. We’ve talked about various kinds of ways to go for humor in music. We didn’t get a lot of positive [response] back from him. Some people, just the thought of doing a whole new show with 60 people that they’ve never met before on the stage is a little daunting. But I haven’t totally given up on that one yet.
HOLIDAY POPS 2022
At Symphony Hall, as well as other locations (Worcester, Dec. 2; Storrs, Conn., Dec. 3; Manchester, N.H., Dec. 10; Lowell, Dec. 18). Dec. 1-24. Tickets from $37. 888-266-1200, bso.org/pops
Interview was edited and condensed. Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.