If it still doesn’t feel like the start of the holiday season, conductor Joseph Young is pretty sure he has the answer — the Phoenix Symphony’s Holiday Pops performance.
We caught up with Young to talk about the annual tradition.
Question: How do you go about putting a holiday program together?
Answer: There are so many great holiday songs, it’s hard to pin down exactly which ones to do. So I really take into account how I want everyone to leave the program. I want a hint of the classic Christmas carols. I want a holiday feeling. I want something about Santa, always. But I also want to make sure I feature our amazing chorus. Every year, our chorus joins us for the holiday program, and they bring such a strong amount of holiday cheer. This year, I wanted to end on a message of peace. So we’re ending with “Let There be Peace on Earth” and a song called “My Grown-Up Christmas List” (by David Foster).
We have a Hanukah piece as well. We say it’s a holiday program because we include everyone. We also have this beautiful arrangement of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” that features the chorus. There is a religious connotation to that song, but some people don’t realize that a lot of it was based off of the Cuban Missile Crisis. So there’s this secular memory tied to it.
Q: Will the chorus be featured on everything?
A: No. We have some pieces where we feature just the orchestra. We also have a few songs that have soloists.
Q: Are there pieces that are pretty much a given when doing a holiday concert?
A: “Sleigh Ride” is a given. Everyone wants to hear “Sleigh Ride.” I always say there has to be a sing-along for a holiday program. So there’s a sing-along to classic Christmas carols. Those are two things that you have to have.
Q: Any personal favorites?
A: I always love the holiday program. It’s the one program I really love putting together because the last week of November, you don’t feel like it’s the holidays until you hear the Christmas carols. And I like to be involved in that. For some people, after Thanksgiving, it still doesn’t feel like the holidays. But I want everyone to feel like this is the official start of the holiday season.
I should mention that in addition to doing the Holiday Pops Concert, on the first of December, we’re doing a family holiday concert. So if families don’t want to come to the big two-hour concert with the chorus, we have a smaller version on Saturday which features a movie called “The Snowman.” We’re playing the music live and having a narrator with us as we show images of that classic movie.
Q: How does the audience that you get at your Holiday Pops show compare with the regular symphony audience?
A: I think what happens with the holiday program is exactly what I like. Everyone wants to get ready for the holidays. So you see not only traditional symphony goers. You see people who just love the holidays and want to get into that holiday spirit. You see families. You see people who haven’t been to a symphony concert before. It’s a little bit of everybody from the Valley. It’s become a tradition.