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Music Review

Touring Boston Pops Offers Holiday Treats


Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra opened their annual holiday tour with a potentially exhausting weekend in the West--including two concerts in one day at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Yet this freelance-staffed touring arm of the Boston Pops sounded fresh and alert in Cerritos on Sunday afternoon--and probably happy to be playing in a real concert hall instead of, say, the basketball arenas in Phoenix and Sacramento.

Winding up his sixth season as Pops conductor, Lockhart can conjure a good deal of the zest of the Arthur Fiedler years, even in holiday programming that might catch other orchestras napping.

In virtually all cases, the music was dispatched with warmth and pizazz by the Pops, with a polished choral contribution in the first balcony from John Alexander's University Singers of Cal State Fullerton.

Lockhart's team of arrangers continues to rework many all-too-familiar holiday tunes into medleys cushioned by the Boston carpet of strings, with jazz veteran Don Sebesky's swirling, inventive "Joy!" making the snazziest impression.

Somewhat off the beaten path was Pat Hollenbeck's vigorous medley of tunes from the John Jacob Niles song bag, "Songs From the Hill Folk." Only one piece of so-called classical music worked its way into the mix this time: a fast, elegantly swaying rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers."

Singer-pianist-guitarist Rob Mathes, owner of a piping voice rooted in Motown, was featured in two solo segments and an encore, performing his own soft-rock-flavored songs and some carols. KABC-TV business reporter Jim Newman did the traditional narration of " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," with a fanciful orchestral arrangement nearly overwhelming his voice.

And Santa Claus worked the crowd, making several joking references to the ongoing presidential election mess (alas, they get CNN at the North Pole too).

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