For me, at least. Because we’re driving to New Jersey on Saturday for the Christmas holidays, I frontloaded my concert schedule and finished my personal Pops run last night with two back to back concerts. The 4 pm concert was the better of the two for me personally, and I think for the team as a whole; we were all fresh, having had a day off since our Sunday morning and afternoon concerts, and our concentration was good. The result was a luminous rendition of Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music” (which rises substantially in my estimation with a full string section behind it) and of the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols. The second show was weaker in the first half—a few minor glitches that threw off the concentration of the chorus—but stronger in the second, where audience response to the Twelve Days medley made a big difference.
Two explanatory notes:
- There are something like 33 home performances of the Holiday Pops concert, and even if the Tanglewood Festival Chorus were all full time choristers (which we’re not), we couldn’t possibly sing all the shows without developing a mass outbreak of laryngitis and vocal nodules. So we take 250 voices and split them up into five or so teams. I sing on the Purple Team, and we had a run of six or seven shows.
- The program at Holiday Pops is typically structured with a more serious first half and a more “fun” second half. This year the first half was not only serious but strikingly good from a choral repertoire perspective, with the usual “Holiday Fanfare” (on Hark the Herald Angels Sing) and the “Hallelujah Chorus” being supplemented by the aforementioned Rutter and Vaughan Williams pieces, and by a suite from the sublime Amahl and the Night Visitors. The second half kicks off this year with a massive jazzy, brassy take on Joy to the World, is followed by the indignity that is “Light One Candle,” then “Sleigh Ride,” “Twelve Days,” the traditional Night Before Christmas, the “Santa Medley” (featuring the full-choir arrangement of “Santa Baby” which the Globe review compares to being seduced by a pro wrestler(!)), a singalong, and two encores. All the pieces on the second half benefit from audience feedback, and we know the crowd is going to be good when we hear them reacting to the early jokes in “Twelve Days.” Last night the crowd was clearly primed and had repeat listeners in it, as some joker in the crowd called out “Excellent!” when Keith announced the number—a reference to the appearance of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” made famous to current listeners of course by the “excellent” Wayne’s World movie, in one of the later days.
All in all, I think I had more fun at Pops this year than I’ve had in the past. But I’m still glad it’s done!