Of all the things we do in December, our trip to the Boston Pops for their Christmas concert is my favorite. First of all, what’s not to like?
It’s a great concert, fine orchestra, perfect symphony venue. Boston’s Symphony Hall was built in 1900. It’s a classic, both architecturally and acoustically.
According to the BSO’s website, Symphony Hall opened on October 15, 1900 with an inaugural gala led by music director Wilhelm Gericke. The architects, McKim, Mead & White of New York, engaged Wallace Clement Sabine, a young assistant professor of physics at Harvard, as their acoustical consultant.
Symphony Hall is widely regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world. The walls of the stage slope inward to help focus the sound. The side balconies are shallow so as not to trap any of the sound, and the recesses of the ceiling, along with the statue-filled niches along the three sides, help to distribute the sound throughout the hall.
The 16 replicas of Greek and Roman statues are related in some way to music, art, or literature.
They were placed in the niches as part of an appreciation of the frequently quoted words, “Boston, the Athens of America,” written by Bostonian William Tudor in the early 19th century.
The Symphony Hall organ — an Aeolian Skinner designed by G. Donald Harrison and installed in 1949 — is one of the finest concert hall organs in the world.
A couple of interesting points for observant concert-goers: Beethoven is the only composer whose name was inscribed on one of the plaques that trim the stage and balconies; the other plaques were left empty since it was felt that only Beethoven’s popularity would remain unchanged.
The initials “BMH” for “Boston Music Hall”, as the building was originally to have been called, appear on the stairwell banisters at the Huntington Avenue side, originally planned as the main entrance. The old Boston Music Hall was gutted only after the new building, Symphony Hall, was opened.
This year’s program was a bit different than previous year’s. Instead of the usual reading of “The Night Before Christmas,” there was a reading and music dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I (November 1914) and the spontaneous “Christmas Truce” of 24 December 1914.
There was less use of projected images, more orchestral music. But Santa Claus made his traditional appearance and “The 12 Days of Christmas” was as joyful and raucous as ever. The program was intentionally more inclusive. It was great hearing some songs I remember my mother singing in Yiddish played by this wonderful orchestra.
Sometimes the question comes up whether it’s worth supporting orchestras and concert halls like this … and I think of how much we would lose without them. The shine in the eyes of my granddaughter the first time she saw Symphony Hall. For that matter, the shine in my eyes the first time I heard a concert in Carnegie Hall. These places are national treasures. We have so little of our past preserved. I am so grateful we have held onto these precious, beautiful places.
And the music. Oh, the music.