Keith Lockhart conducts ‘America’s Orchestra’ in a holiday extravaganza at Lowell Auditorium

By Nancye Tuttle , Sun Correspondent

Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart is on the run with his annual holiday musical marathon. He’ll oversee more than 40 Holiday Pops concerts from Dec. 1 through Christmas Eve and conduct most of them, including one at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, Dec. 16.

But the amiable leader of “America’s orchestra,” as the Pops is known, wasn’t out of breath, just exhilarated, when he called last week to chat about music, the holidays and returning to Lowell.

“It’s pretty simple — we keep coming back because we keep being asked back and we like going where we’re invited,” said Lockhart.

Lowell has a long history with the Pops, Lockhart added, noting that Arthur Fiedler, the legendary conductor of the orchestra for 50 years, did run-out Pops outdoor concerts in Lowell along the Merrimack River in the 1960s.

“Lowell is the closest city to Boston we play this holiday season in our seven-city Northeastern tour. We like bringing the Pops to a community that loves and appreciates us. I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.

While audiences expect certain seasonal gems in Holiday Pops concerts — the Christmas carol sing-along, “The Night Before Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” and Santa’s jolly visit among them — Lockhart freshens it up each year with something new.

“We keep traditions that the audience expects, but we mix it up here and there, too,” he said.

This year, the vocal ensemble Five by Design is the new element. The troupe sings tunes from the ’40s and ’50s and created a flagship production called “Radio Days,” a patriotic tribute to the golden age of radio and 50th anniversary of World War II.

“We’ve talked to them over the years about performing with us and this year we’re happy to make it happen,” said Lockhart.

The ensemble will do a vocal version of “The Night Before Christmas,” “The Carol of the Bells” and “Come, Oh Come, Emanuel.”

Another Holiday Pops tradition that continues in Lowell is the guest
appearance by a local celebrity lending vocal talents at the concert.
Jack Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Bank, joins the Pops in a reading of “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.” Lockhart enjoys that tradition, too.

“It’s enjoyable meeting the local personalities and this is a lovely little narration we’re doing this year,” he said.

With so much repetition, no one could blame Lockhart if he never wanted to hear another note of “Jingle Bells” or “Joy to the World” again. To the contrary, he loves every minute of it — especially Holiday Pops audiences. “They keep it fresh for me. Our most enthusiastic audiences are those who join us for the holiday shows. That’s why we keep doing it year after year,” said Lockhart.

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Pops by the numbers

  • — Keith Lockhart became the 20th conductor of the Boston Pops in 1995.
  • — During his 17-year tenure, he has conducted over 1400 concerts and introduced the innovative JazzFest and EdgeFest series, featuring prominent jazz and indie artists performing with the Pops.
  • — Under Lockhart, the Pops has commissioned several new works, including The Dream Lives On, a tribute to the Kennedy brothers, which premiered in May 2010 during the Pops’ 125th anniversary season.
  • — Lockhart and the Pops have released four self-produced recordings — Sleigh Ride, America, Oscar & Tony, and The Red Sox Album.
  • — They have also recorded eight albums with RCA Victor — Runnin’ Wild: The Boston Pops Play Glenn Miller, American Visions, the Grammy-nominated The Celtic Album, Holiday Pops, A Splash of Pops, Encore!, and the Latin Grammy-nominated The Latin Album and My Favorite Things.
  • — Lockhart has made 71 television shows with the Boston Pops and 38 new programs for PBS’s Evening at Pops.
  • — He has led the Boston Pops on 35 national tours.
  • — Holiday Pops started in 1974 with a three-concert series at Symphony Hall.
  • — In 2012, the Pops play 37 concerts at Symphony Hall, plus a seven-city Northeast tour.
  • — The Holiday Pops season runs Dec. 1-24 with multiple concerts on certain days, including the popular Kid’s Matinees, introduced a couple of years ago, on Saturdays at 11 a.m.

Pops presents

  • How about stuffing a couple of Pops tickets into someone’s stocking this Christmas? Tickets to the 2013 Boston Pops season go on sale on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 10 a.m.
  • This year’s line-up includes country crooner Vince Gill headlining Opening Night at Pops on Wednesday, May 8. Other highlights include a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, music from the Mad Men-era of the 1950s, special guest performers from the TV shows Glee and Smash, concerts devoted to movie music and appearances by Pops laureate conductor John Williams.
  • Visit for details.