BOSTON Christmas comes but once a year.
But for Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, his orchestra’s Christmas OK, the Holiday Pops show comes to Symphony Hall 37 times in December.
What: Holiday Pops, featuring Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Where: Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston
When: Dec. 7-24
That’s a lot of visits from Santa and many jingling sleigh bells. Does Lockhart who is conducting his 17th Holiday Pops season ever tire of this?
“If you go into it with the right attitude it’s fine,” says Lockhart, whose merry men and women will be joined as always by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. “And the thing is, people love it. It’s a really vocal embrace that you don’t find at concerts any other time of the year. It’s the most fun time of the year, even though there are an awful lot of them.”
Before the marathon at Symphony Hall, there’s this: a second effort to break the world record for Christmas carolers singing together in one place at one time. Lockhart will be attempting to coordinate that fete needing more than 9,100 people at noon Dec. 3 at the Christian Science Plaza in Boston.
Lockhart, 52, talked about his holiday plans by phone Monday afternoon.
Q: It’s almost that time of year again. How are you doing?
A: Oh, ho ho ho and all that. ‘Tis the season. Already.
Q: Is there a Holiday Pops audience on the Cape?
A: Yes, I think so. Basically, we’re talking 65,000 people coming and it draws from quite a large area. There are probably some people … who go in the other direction to the show in Providence (8 p.m. Friday at Providence Performing Arts Center).
Q: Have you ever done holiday shows on the Cape?
A: No, never done a holiday show, partly because when we do the show on the road, we really need to do it in a big venue and there’s no big venue on the Cape except the outdoor ones, which are inclement at this time of the year.
Q: Why does this show work year after year?
A: The great thing about this is we started in 1974, 37 years ago, and it’s grown hugely since then. It really has become, for a lot of people in this area, an unviolatable part of their holiday tradition. That’s wonderful. We just want to keep it up. We want them to be that happy with the experience, tell their kids and have the same thing happen 20 years from now.
Q: When you will still be up on that podium.
A: A little creakier than I am now.
Q: It’s a long haul, this string of shows. How do you keep boredom at bay?
A: Basically, it comes down to professionalism. It’s our job not to be bored and to turn in a great performance. You say, “How does someone who’s performed ‘The Sound of Music’ 600 times do it?” Well, the idea is there are still people paying for the tickets and it’s their very first performance. But on top of that, I think it’s about audience reaction. These concerts are so warmly received, it’s as if you feed off their energy, and you end up having a great time too. And we do try to change each year and make things a little different for us and the people coming.
Q: What’s a new wrinkle this year?
A: There are very few things we haven’t played at one point or another over the last 17 years at the Holiday Pops, but there are a number of things we haven’t played for a while. This year, there’s Vaughan Williams’ opening chorus to “Hodie,” which is one of my favorite ways to open. We haven’t done it in about a decade. It gives us a real solid footing on the classical repertoire.
Q: From what I’ve seen, it seems the first half of the show is the more serious/spiritual music and the second half more silly/fun.
A: That’s a fair way to put it. Obviously, it’s not totally linear and it’s not a solid line of demarcation at the half. That
having been said, all concerts are journeys and on a journey like this you have to go in that direction. It’s kind of silly to start off with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and end with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It just doesn’t have the right feel to it. People appreciate the holiday for different reasons some for the more secular fun reasons and some for the deeper meanings behind it.
Q: I should stop you because you just said “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and that might lead someone to think you might actually play it.
A: (laughs) Well, you know, I have considered it and abandoned the thought many times.
Q: Good thinking. But do you have any more rock-oriented Christmas songs?
A: This year is fairly straightforward. I’d say the closest to rock we get is with Rockapella, (the group) we’re doing the touring shows with. The shows in the hall are going to center around our version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” with narration by Jeremiah Kissel and Will LeBow, who switch off. The Christmas concerts are a more traditional sort of thing for everybody. Even people who would normally exist to a different beat somehow at Christmas want to go for the traditional.
Q: I know we’ll be seeing you with Santa exchanging words of wisdom. What do you hope to accomplish with your talk with Santa?
A: I always hope to gain for myself and the public a deeper knowledge of what goes on in Santa’s world. We only see him for that fleeting time. And we’re obviously very grateful that during what seems to be a very busy time of the year for him, he takes the time to see us, the Boston Pops. If you needed more proof that the Boston Pops has some pull, there you have it.
Q: What about trying to set that caroling record?
A: Yes, one more time.
Q: Last year, you failed in your attempt.
A: I hate to use the word fail. I think when people set out with great intentions to break a record like this, sometimes it’s a blessing to not quite get what you asked for. We had it on the plaza on the side of the Pru Center on Boylston Street. The crowd was overflowing and we were only about two-thirds of the way to the record number of people. It was amazing to have thousands of people, parents with their kids holding lyric sheets, and all singing along. It was such a cool thing and weirdly community-like, in a day that doesn’t have many of those events anymore.
Q: So this year you want to enter the Guinness World Records?
A: We want to break the record convincingly, of course, and we have moved to the Christian Science Plaza to give us more room. You can imagine with a bunch of amateur singers we do every carol normal people have ever heard of. We made a list of your favorite 50 carols and we’ll sing one or two verses.
Q: Is there any artistic bar for this?
A: Only the artistic bar of quantity in participation.
Q: Quantity, not quality?
A: Well, I’d like to think quantity in this situation begets quality.