November 29, 2004
Like the 19th century founders of the Boston Pops Symphony probably intended, catching the modernday Holiday Pops Tour at America West Arena Sunday, truly was symphony “for the people.”
The large basketball arena, with its many aisles of entry and steep, concrete staircases, must have posed a challenge for ushers monitoring audience interruptions for throughout the night guests frequently rose to answer cell phones and visit the lobby for more refreshments. Even though the arena was 3/4 full, the antsy crowd was pretty distracting early in the show. The folks seated behind us even got cozy with their golden labrador retriever (probably a sight-assistance animal) at their feet.
The Pops opened the show by speeding through “Joy to the World” and were challenged to fill the hall's high ceilings and many nooks and crannies with their warm, orchestral sound. Unfortunately, the high notes of the sopranos from the University Singers from California State University, Fullerton, were still dampened — almost to the point of being inaudible.
If the concert opening experience was lacking, the holiday sparkle was restored by young New Zealander and classic vocalist Hayley Westenra. Her soft tremolos in “Ave Maria” had the audience, and especially the maestro, in awe. When the choir embarked on cascading trills in a “Songs from the Hill Folk” medley, Westenra returned to the stage to sing a rich, triumphant “Go Tell it on the Mountain.”
In the second half of the show, Westenra converted the arena to a chilly winter wonderland with her signature piece, “Walking in the Air,” an ethereal etude from the children’s film “The Snowman.” The brass and reeds sections gave a caberet feel to a warm-hearted “Chanukah Overture.” And after some merry banter with Santa, Conductor Keith Lockhart led the crowd in a sing-along geared for younger patrons.
Although not as many families with children turned out as organizers may have anticipated, some welcomed the return of the Pops as a possibility for new holiday traditions.
Sammie Sherman, 11, of Phoenix and her brother Zach, 13, attended the Pops with their parents and grandparents. They both enjoyed the singalong, especially the Chipmunk song, according to Sammie. Their mother, Theresa Sherman, said the family would consider a return to the Pops concert next year, “just to start the holiday season.”