|Ann Hampton Callaway|
Now don't get me wrong, the Boston Pops are a great orchestra and under the direction of Keith Lockhart they always provide an engaging, joyous holiday show. But I thought the set list was somewhat tired and even with the addition of the vocal ensemble Five by Design who joined the Pops on several songs and gave them a fun 50's feel as well as having Meredith Vieira read "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" accompanied by the Pops, the whole concert just seemed a little flat.
The NJSO concert, led by guest conductor John Morris Russell from the Cincinnati Pops, featured a varied set list that included many surprises. Ann Hampton Callaway was the special guest and she provided a warm and personal touch to the many holiday classics she sang- some with the entire orchestra, and a few with a trio. The highlights for me included Ann's take on "My Favorite Things" as well as "Carol of the Bells," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland."
Ann also performed some of her original songs as well including "Christmas Lullaby" that Barbra Streisand recorded and a hilarious one she wrote on the spot after taking lyric suggestions from the audience. Ann knows how to connect with an audience which added a nice sense of humor as well as a personal connection to the evening.
What I also enjoyed so much about the concert was the orchestral pieces that weren't exactly traditional holiday fare, yet had a holiday connection, like Rimsky-Korsakov's "Dance of the Tumblers," Bizet's Farandole Suite from L'Arlesienne and a lovely pairing of "Winter" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" that they title "A Winter Miracle." This pairing was a simply fantastic arrangement that merged the two songs seamlessly into an even greater piece of music.
The Masterwork Chorus provided a lovely rich choral sound to several songs including Handel's "Messiah," and "Deck the Halls" Ann joined them on the Handel piece as well as led them with a moving performance to John William's "Somewhere in My Memory." The concert ended with an emotionally uplifting "Go Tell It On the Mountain" that featured a rousing take on the gospel classic by the orchestra, Callaway and the Chorus.