Dallas — Most area orchestras and other arts groups offer a holiday program. They’re fun, they’re festive, and they fill the coffers, attracting patrons who are not regular concertgoers or dance patrons. One of the best and most popular of these is the Dallas Symphony’s Christmas Pops. The Meyerson fills to near-capacity for 13 performances, and rightfully so.
There’s not likely to be a higher quality performance of traditional Christmas favorites than that offered by the Dallas Symphony. Yes, not all of the principals perform these concerts, but the quality of musicianship is still stellar, and the musicians bring engagement and energy to the performances. Conductor Lawrence Loh is charming and understands that the audience is there to hear the music, not the conductor. And the Meyerson is especially lovely when decorated for the holidays, with greenery and sparkling lights.
This is a fine program for families—many children were in attendance, including a three-year-old in front of me who stayed alert for most of the concert—though she did perk up considerably when Santa appeared on stage. Introduce children to programs such as this when they are young, and perhaps by their teen years they will be begging to hear Mahler or Bruckner.
Most of the selections on the program were predictable, but all were performed with verve. Soprano Ava Pine brought life, light, and three costume changes to her role as soloist on seven selections. This much singing is a lot to ask for any soloist, and yet both her voice and her stage presence never diminished.
There were the de rigueur selections from Messiah and The Nutcracker, as well as a rousing rendition of “Joy to the World” and a few carol medleys. (One medley was arranged by Alexander Courage, the composer of the theme to Star Trek, which I mention only because this is the third time this season I’ve been able to work a Star Trek reference into a review.) The mandatory sing-along, of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was clever and fun.
There were also some surprises and oddities, though—Brahms’s less-familiar setting of the Ave Maria, for example, replaced Schubert’s, and principal tuba Matthew Good was soloist for a Christmas medley incorporating New Orleans jazz, big band, classical, and other styles. The only real miss on the program was a medley that featured Ava Pine’s excellent recitation of the Christmas story from the biblical book of Luke, followed by that most majestic of Christmas carols, “O Holy Night,” and ending with… a song from A Muppets Christmas Carol. Talk about killing the mood.
Overall, the Dallas Symphony’s Christmas Pops is a fine addition to the Christmas season—whether it’s a dress-up date, a family event, or a chance for regular concertgoers to hear some lighter fare.