Driving back to New York after enjoying Thanksgiving in Massachusetts found virtually every radio venue had switched to an All-Holiday format; a true indication that the Christmas season was upon us. It's a joyous time of the year, even if we have to cope with those perilous twelve pains of Christmas.
In the month of December, Maestro Keith Lockhart and his famed Boston Pops put on their Santa caps and fill concert halls with their festive music. Not only do they perform a full schedule in Boston's famed Symphony Hall, but they tour extensively, bringing their distinctive sound to such locations as Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. This all means Lockhart and his orchestra spend more than just a little time on planes and buses.
Speaking by phone while traveling through Wisconsin, Lockhart sounded refreshed and as energetic as always. The concerts have been extremely well received and that might be the impetus for his joviality. "It's not that we don't have experience in this area but every year we hope that this program will work and obviously it has because the audience response has been extremely warm. They love the Pops but they also are falling in love with Rockapella, our guests in these concerts. It's turning out to be a very successful tour."
Regular readers of BroadwayWorld.Com might not be fully familiar with Rockapella. "They are one of the world's premier a cappella vocal ensembles, which makes it funny on some level that they are singing with us. However, they've been around for nearly 25 years. They are five voices; normally self-contained, but have worked with us in a variety of other situations. This is their first Holiday Tour with us, however. We have some arrangements that come from their repertoire, things like "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" and some arrangements that we've created specifically for the collaboration, like this amazing version of "The Little Drummer Boy" that's a real work-out for our percussion section and their vocal prowess."
The rest of the program consists of some of the old standbys, including both "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas Festival" which were written specifically for the Boston Pops by Leroy Anderson. Lockhart continues by saying, "Rockapella is singing everything from 'I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day' to 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'. We'll also be performing music from Tchaikovsky's 'The Nutcracker' which is certainly a Christmas classic. We have a young soprano named Kathryn Skemp Moran, who has a gorgeous voice. She's joining us for three French carols and 'I Wonder as I Wander' as well as for a beautiful arrangement of 'The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)' that was created for the Boston Pops a few years ago to mark the passing of its composer Mel Torme."
It should be noted that Keith Lockhart worked with Mel Torme and conducted a Christmas album entitled Christmas Spngs with the famed crooner. "That was my commercial recording debut in 1992," Lockhart recalls. "It's funny actually because the leader of Rockapella, who is also the group's principal arranger, is a huge Mel Torme fan. He thinks it's cool that I made my recording debut with Mel. One of the numbers they perform is a Christmas version of 'Glow Worm' that Mel wrote a new lyric for and is featured on that album. He said to me, 'I would have never thought of this if it weren't for the album you did with Mel.' It's a small world."
When the Pops and their conductor get back to Symphony Hall, the program considerably changes. "It is," the maestro states, "a completely different program. Most obviously, Rockapella isn't with us except for 'A Company Christmas' which is a big program fund raiser. What we have instead, of course, is the Tanglewood Festival chorus. It becomes a more choral based concert as opposed to a vocal group in front of us. One of the exciting things about that program is that we're going to record another Christmas album, which will be my third holiday recording with the Pops. As its centerpiece it will be our version of 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas'. We'll be recording half the album during live concerts this year and half from next year's concerts." Not only are these live recordings more exciting but they are also more economical to produce. "It's always a matter of economics these days. Remember the Kennedy Tribute was recoded live as was 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' and the whole 'Red Sox' album. We're getting better at these things as we go on." The live recordings also capture the spontaneity of a concert which isn't always possible under studio conditions. "These days people want live. Those are the recordings that sell. I think there's a feeling of people being there and reacting as opposed to the sterility of the studio environment.