Classical Music

Houston Symphony's Very Merry POPS Returns This Week

Houston Symphony, Houston Symphony Chorus and guest vocalist N'Kenge will offer some of the holiday's most memorable songs and a few new arrangements the whole family will enjoy.
Houston Symphony, Houston Symphony Chorus and guest vocalist N'Kenge will offer some of the holiday's most memorable songs and a few new arrangements the whole family will enjoy. Photo by Anthony Rathbun
Houston Symphony is bringing back its annual holiday tradition, Very Merry POPS, filled with songs of good cheer performed by the orchestra, the Houston Symphony Chorus and guest vocalist N’Kenge. The family friendly festivities run Thursday through Sunday at Jones Hall.

Returning to the podium is former Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski, who served in that capacity for 17 seasons and 20 seasons total before passing the conductor’s baton to Steven Reineke.

“I planned a very upbeat, celebratory kind of program with lots of traditional Christmas carols and songs…and a small sprinkling of things that might be new to some people,” Krajewski said.

Expect favorites like “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “The First Noel,” to medleys of seasonal tunes to funky arrangements like “Caribbean Sleigh Ride.”

“There are plenty of recognizable carols and songs, but what I'm really looking forward to is that I have found a lot of new arrangements that are creative, unique sounding, and put a new twist on traditional carols and songs,” Krajewski said. “A lot of them are brand new to this program, and they're very effective and moving.”

Guest soloist N’Kenge will enhance the program, too, as she brings with her a stellar resume to back up her powerhouse voice. A Grammy-, Tony-, and Emmy-nominated and International Award-winning vocalist, songwriter, actress and producer, N’Kenge’s has been heralded by The New York Times as “a classically trained diva who can stretch from Broadway to Pop, Soul and Opera.” After making her Broadway debut in Sondheim on Sondheim, she originated the role of Mary Wells in Motown: The Musical. She starred in the Broadway revival of the Tony Award-nominated and Olivier Award-winning musical Caroline, or Change, at the legendary Studio 54. Later this year, she will star in the Broadway-bound musical she conceived and produced on the life and legacy of groundbreaking actress Dorothy Dandridge.

With this star-studded group of musicians on the stage, Krajewski had to work through a program list that would allow the orchestra, the chorus and N’Kenge to each have their time to shine but also to find ways to combine them together.

“What I like about this program is the variety of textures that we can get out of all these different forces, and the combinations will lend to each of those elements to have their showcase pieces. We'll have several pieces with chorus and orchestra, several pieces of the soloist and orchestra, and several pieces with everybody. It provides a lot of color, and it keeps the program interesting and moving along,” he said.

Be on the lookout for one more familiar face at Very Merry POPS: Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.

“We know his schedule is very busy around this time of year, but we look forward to any time we can get with him,” Krajewski said.

For the conductor, this concert holds special meaning.

“I've always really enjoyed being able to come back to see everyone and be able to entertain the audience with a great orchestra, especially for the holiday show. I was working with Houston Symphony when we gave it the title Very Merry POPS for the first time, and I had a certain concept basic concept in my mind of what that meant,” he said. “My goal was to have it hopefully become a known title. My goal was to have it be something that was part of many people's holiday tradition with their family and friends. So, more than 20 years later, I'm always very pleased to see that it's still going strong and happy to still be a part of it.”

Looks like his holiday wish came true.
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Houston Symphony’s Very Merry POPS plays at 8 p.m. December 15 and 17, and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. December 18 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For tickets or more information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $32 - $160. Saturday’s livestream performance is $20.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd