The Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts was ready for Christmas Saturday night. The elaborate decorations would have fit in Oliver Warbucks’ mansion or Blair Waldorf's apartment. A huge green and silver wreath hung over the stage and ushers wore Santa hats. The stage, packed with instruments and musicians, was almost as crowded as the audience, where people milled around, taking photos in front of decorations and finding their seats. As soon as Jorgensen Director Rod Rock introduced the event and left the stage, Maestro Keith Lockhart took the conductor’s platform and the Boston Pops Holiday Concert began.
As a continuation of a 12-year tradition, the Boston Pops performed a number of holiday pieces for the University of Connecticut community. The orchestra was joined by the Metropolitan Chorale for a combo that kept the evening lively with their characteristic departure from orchestral convention. Performances included narration, poetry, a sing-along, a brief dance by Lockhart and a “surprise” visit from Santa.
Every year the orchestra strives to tell a story through their performance. This year, the theme was simply, “The Christmas Story.” Right before intermission, singer Philip Lima joined Lockhart up at the front. Lima switched between reading the story of the nativity — Mary and Joseph looking for lodging, settling in a manger for Mary to give birth to Jesus, angels alerting the shepherds, everybody sharing the good news — and singing along with the choir.
As Lima narrated, the orchestra continued to play intensely and illustrations by children’s author Tommy DePaola were projected on either side of the stage. The combination of music, storytelling and imagery was almost like watching a film. At the conclusion of the piece, audience members were on their feet.
The second half of the performance included even more energy and movement on stage. The orchestra and choir performed a medley Lockhart described as “the world’s best ever version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’” which included a lot of motion as the choir held up signs for each day and incorporated other tunes like “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music,” the “Can-can” and even a snippet of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“I thought it was excellent,” Hartford resident John Michael said. “I’d never heard their ‘12 Days of Christmas,’ despite being from the Boston region and seeing them before.”
While Lockhart conducted most of the performance, the Metropolitan Chorale Director Lisa Graham led her choir in one song: The Pentatonix version of, “The Little Drummer Boy,” which kept the choir active with swaying and beatboxing.
Special guest Chion Wolf also provided an energetic reading of “The Night Before Christmas” with orchestral accompaniment.
Although Santa Claus’ visit later in the evening wasn’t a surprise to anybody who’d read the event’s description, the children in the audience still crowded around the big man in the red suit as the lights in the audience came on and lyrics were provided for some classic audience caroling.
If the audience’s rise to their feet after nearly every song in the second set is any indication, the Boston Pops’ extra elements were huge crowd-pleasers.
“We come every year,” Marge Loschi said, an audience member from East Granby. Loschi came to see the performance with her daughter, who attends UConn. “It really gets us into the holiday spirit.”
Alex Houdeshell is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.