Music Review

A celebratory kickoff night for the Holiday Pops

If you attend a Boston Pops concert during the holiday season, you will be expected to sing. There’s no graceful way of avoiding it; the obligatory singalong medley arrives toward the end of the program, as it always does, and refusal will draw attention worse than whatever off-pitch warbling you fear is the best you have to offer. But if that’s the kind of Grinch you are, why even go to the Holiday Pops in the first place?

After all, that’s the tone of the Pops and of the season: goofy and a little unselfconscious but full of good cheer and hope. At this year’s holiday-season opener, Symphony Hall served as both community and shelter on a rainy Wednesday night. “It’s dark out there, it’s wet,” said conductor Keith Lockhart beforehand, with shades of the Emcee from “Cabaret,” mentioning that the concert hall was free of such discomforts. “Remember to celebrate and have fun.”

The brass voluntary and twinkling woodwinds that kicked off the program certainly assisted in that aim, as did the jolly, stiff-backed gallop of “We Need a Little Christmas.” On “Mary’s Little Boy Child,” high piccolos and Dixieland trumpet worked better with the song’s calypso lilt than did the strings and Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which made for an awkward fit. “Sleigh Ride” kept the skip in its clip-clopping step, while Lockhart used the orchestra to punctuate Mayor Marty Walsh’s reading of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”


But there was room for solemnity and awe as well. The slow, flowing chorale of “Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light” breathed and expanded to fill the hall with Tanglewood’s voices, more even than on Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus. Respighi’s gorgeous “The Adoration of the Magi” evoked not just wonder but also serenity as the rich, low strings yanked hearts forward. Even the otherwise syrupy “Light One Candle” included a suddenly lovely bridge where the instruments dropped out, leaving only Tanglewood to weave around the harmonies.

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Still, the overall atmosphere was appropriately one of celebration, aided by the numerous medleys offering the Pops the opportunity to touch on as many Christmas songs as possible without devoting entire numbers to them. It was fitting, then, that the concert ended with “Let There Be Peace on Earth”; a pleading waltz performed as though its title request was already in hand, it sounded a note of triumph at its conclusion.

Holiday Pops

At Symphony Hall, Wednesday. Through Dec. 24. Tickets: $39-$143. 888-266-1200,

Marc Hirsh can be reached at or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.