Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Marathon man: Keith Lockhart talks about the holiday season, and the Boston Pops incredible schedule

Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. Stu Rosner photograph

Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. Stu Rosner photograph

The Christmas miracle takes many forms. When we’re talking about the Boston Pops, it’s more like a Christmas marathon.

Keith Lockhart and his band take the stage for a staggering 44 performances in just 26 days—including a visit to the Providence Performing Arts Center on Dec. 8. The jolly man in the red suit accomplishes some amazing things in one night, but Lockhart spreads around a lot of holiday cheer in his own right.

“Physically, it’s hardest on the weekends,” Lockhart says. “Between Friday at 4 o’clock, and Sunday at 9, we do eight concerts. Let’s just say I don’t get home to put the kids to bed most nights.”

The kids surely miss him, but that doesn’t dim Lockhart’s perpetual enthusiasm for his work.

“I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish about it, but it’s all good stuff for three weeks,” he says. “These concerts are great, and people really want to be here. And to say people are hungry for the peace and joy of the season is an understatement. It’s not a painful burden at all.”

The program includes lots of Pops favorites—Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus’s stoked-up version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” A couple of selections from the movie “Home Alone”—which will also be part of a live filming and orchestral accompaniment later in the month—and a traditional sing-along are in the mix. 

Returning this season will be “The Christmas Story,” a collaboration that features music prepared by Philip Lane and Bill Elliott, text assembled by Lockhart himself, a film montage of images from noted children’s author Tomie dePaola. “I came up with the text from the Gospels, and from Isaiah,” Lockhart says. “After Philip developed the music, we looked for images, and Tomie has a certain flair for it. It feels and sounds like Christmas.”

To pull it all off—most of the concerts are at Symphony Hall, but the Providence performance is part of an extended run-out tour as well—Lockhart has some help. There are really two Pops orchestras—one that is largely comprised of Boston Symphony Orchestra players (minus the principals), and a second, the Pops Esplanade Orchestra, made up from some of the finest freelance musicians in the area.

Lockhart has his own backup as well—good thing, since some of the touring appearances take place at the same time as Boston performances. Tanglewood Festival Chorus director James Burton conducts at Symphony Hall when Lockhart is on the road, and the Metropolitan Chorale, with Lisa Graham directing, sings with the traveling ensemble.

It’s a lot of work, and coordination. “Lisa has her chorus really well trained,” Lockhart says. “We do the tour with them. And James is great, and charming onstage. I do all the tour concerts, and all the others when I’m in the hall, but he’s totally involved and prepared for the rest.”

So what is it that gets Lockhart through the busy month of December, year after year? “It’s a little mediation before the day begins,” he says, “and then something else after it’s over.”

The Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart conducting, performs on Sat., Dec. 8 at 8:00 p.m. at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets are $58–$130. Call (401) 421-2787 or visit ppacri.org.

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