Tuesday, December 7th, 2004

News Menu Button Boston Pops offers old-fashioned Christmas

Posted on Tue, Dec. 07, 2004
BY ROB HUBBARD

Pioneer Press

CONCERT REVIEW

Since the holiday season is one time when audiences are guaranteed to be looking for ways to spend their entertainment dollar, arts organizations invariably try to come up with some fresh take on Christmastime traditions, with irreverence and unconventionality being among the most prized commodities.

Then there's the Boston Pops approach, which was on full display at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center on Monday night. Irreverence? Not a drop of it. Unconventionality? Precious little, thank you. No, conductor Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra served up a warm cup of Christmas comfort for an appreciative multi-generational crowd of 3,105. While basically dancing with the style that brung them, the orchestra showed that they still do this kind of casual classicism as well as anyone in the business.

While you might expect Arthur Fiedler's old orchestra to attract an AARP-eligible crowd, there were actually a number of teenage girls in the audience, and for that you can thank Hayley Westenra. The 17-year-old soprano from New Zealand is the latest "classical crossover" phenom, something like this decade's Charlotte Church.

For the first half of the concert, Westenra was given the same angelic treatment once accorded Church: Standing upstage bathed in bright white incandescence, she pierced through the pretentiousness with a simple, clear voice that worked best on soft ballads like "I Wonder as I Wander."

While Westenra still has some musical maturing to do she knows how to hit those high notes but swallows many a lyric getting up to them it's to her credit that she could take songs closely associated with legends like Bing Crosby ("Do You Hear What I Hear") and Judy Garland ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") and give them her own crystal-toned interpretation.

But Westenra's presence was the only new wrinkle in what was, at root, a tribute to tradition. Lockhart, the orchestra and the Pacific Chorale delivered the seasonal fare with plenty of enthusiasm, becoming an exceptional XXL big band on the jazziest arrangements. But an encore version of "Sleigh Ride" sounded like Leroy Anderson's original, leaving the audience reveling in the comforts of conventionality.


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Rob Hubbard can be reached at 651-228-5247 or rhubbard@pioneerpress.com.

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