Boston Pops maestro Keith Lockhart packs a lot of meaning into his orchestra’s Independence Day celebrations. His intentions aren’t typically hard to decipher — 2021 had guests Mavis Staples, Jon Batiste and the Air Force’s Singing Sergeants adding to a program meant to cheer on social unity and enduring democracy. But for the run of Holiday Pops shows, is there a need for a meaning beyond good cheer and goodwill?
Lockhart says the Pops seasonal performances are programmed with similar care and consideration. This year, with the Pops playing before a live audience in Symphony Hall for the first time since 2019, a little extra contemplation went into the set list chock with holiday staples.
“Every year I try to make the celebration reflective of what’s on people’s minds, what we have gone through collectively,” Lockhart said. “For me, the thing to celebrate this year is the return to community. The holidays have a lot to do with gathering, with fellowship, with getting out of your pod and realizing we have wonderful things in common. That’s what we have been missing.”
With this return to community in his head, Lockhart presents “A Soldier’s Carol,” a 2014 Boston Pops commission by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty built around the 1914 Christmas Truce — a legendary and spontaneous ceasefire that took place at Christmastime during WWI. “A Soldier’s Carol” returns for the first time since its premiere around the 100th anniversary of the historic event.
“I always wondered, after we put it away (in 2014), ‘When are we going to do this again?’” Lockhart said ahead of his Pops run from Dec. 2 to 24 across multiple venues. “I thought about it this year and the idea that we’ve all been separated during this time, some people very much alone. Not coincidentally, the world feels more fractious than it ever has and I thought ‘A Soldier’s Carol’ was the perfect story to tell.”
Of course, the 2014 commission only represents a sliver of what the Pops will offer in December. The orchestra’s greatest talent is bouncing nimbly between sounds, styles and emotions, and that continues this year. Illustrations from Maine-based artist Ashley Bryant’s children’s book “Walk Together Children, Black American Spirituals,” will accompany a series of new arrangements of holiday spirituals by David Coleman. The orchestra also adds fresh takes of Mexican carols, “Angel y Pastor” and “Villancico Mexicano,” composed by Silvano Jaramillo and orchestrated by Arturo Rodriguez.
“When we got past ‘A Soldier’s Carol,’ we thought a lot about what everyone in the arts should be thinking about, that what we present reflected as diverse a set of backgrounds as it could,” Lockhart said.
New programming keeps the art of the Pops thriving. And Lockhart also recognizes that old favorites remain favorites for a reason. That means audiences can expect to hear Duke Ellington’s swinging twist of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, a performance of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” and many more holiday standards.
“I hesitate to call pieces boilerplate because I think they are more wonderful than that, but there are certainly (Pops) traditions, and far be it from me, especially in this year, to upend too many traditions,” Lockhart said.
For tickets and details about the Holiday Pops at Symphony Hall and beyond, go to bso.org.