Under the direction of music director and conductor Steven Reineke, the acclaimed New York City orchestra once again put together a varied assortment of music. Shamelessly donning a red, glittery tie and emphatically waving his baton, Reineke’s enthusiasm was apparent as he led the holiday proceedings. Offering up classic fare such as “Winter Wonderland” as well as more contemporary arrangements of songs like “Jingle Bell Rock,” the evening’s instrumental segments were polished and satisfying.
In my theatergoing experience, few moments have demanded a standing ovation more than Ms. O’Hara’s virtuosic rendition of “O Holy Night.” Joined by the Pops as well as Essential Voices USA, the acclaimed choir directed by Judith Clurman, O’Hara’s flawless soprano glided across the melody with unparalleled perfection. Providing song interpretations worthy of album recordings, she once again proved why she is so frequently hailed as one of the great leading ladies of this generation.
While O’Hara appealed to the audience with her understated poise and grace, Morrison supplied healthy doses of charm and levity. Prior to his performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic ballad “Younger than Springtime,” one of the few non-seasonal tunes to make its way into the program, he threatened to take off his tuxedo shirt and perform the number toppless like he did during the 2010 revival of South Pacific. Additionally, the audience could not help but smile at his silly, ukulele-strumming rendition of the Hawaiian Christmas favorite “Mele Kalikimaka.”
When the duo was not performing, the Essential Voices took center stage, performing choral arrangements of Jerry Herman’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and others. The first act concluded with “Songs of Freedom,” Judith Clurman’s personally arranged Hanukah medley, introduced by Reineke as an antidote to the “dearth of good Hanukkah songs in choral music” as he stepped aside to allow Clurman to conduct. Featuring strong baritone soloist Arlo Hill, the ten-minute medley was handily the choir’s strongest piece.
Topping off the entire event was a thoroughly entertaining, if ever-so-slightly tawdry, appearance by the Big Man himself. Following Kelli and Matthew’s heartfelt rendition of “Believe,” the Christmas anthem from the film The Polar Express, Santa appeared and proceeded to conduct the Pops in a rousing medley of holiday tunes. While undeniably cheesy, Santa’s arrival and subsequent Carnegie Hall sing-along made for a festive conclusion to a charming evening of cheer.
Home for the Holidays marks the third installment of the Pops’ 2014-2015 season. Taken as a series, Reineke’s expertly curated concerts provide generally consistent quality and impressive variety. While Carnegie Hall audiences will have to wait until next year for their annual dose of Christmas cheer, they can join the Pops in the spring for yet another undoubtedly delightful evening of song.
The New York Pops: Kelli and Matthew: Home for the Holidays (December 19 and 20, 2014)
Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and 7th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800 or visit http://www.carnegiehall.org