Pop Goes the Phil 

"We already had this wonderful holiday event, always sold out, and we thought, 'Why not build a series around that?'

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Boise Philharmonic Orchestra

For some, it's the Santa Claus parade. For others, it's the marvel of decorated storefronts during a nighttime stroll through downtown Boise, or perhaps a visit to Winter Garden aGlow at the Idaho Botanical Garden. But for an increasing number of music lovers, the Christmas season flies as high as Santa's reindeer when the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra strikes up "Sleigh Ride," the instantly transformative favorite and highlight of the Phil's Holiday Pops concert.

"Any time that I've programmed a Holiday Pops, indeed I've included some serious, reverent music of the season. And then comes 'Sleigh Ride.' And that's...well, it's an absolute must, isn't it?" said Eric Garcia, his eyes popping with delight in revisiting the classic song, penned by Leroy Anderson in 1946 and immortalized by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. Garcia, now in his second full season as maestro and music director of the Phil, particularly loves how "Sleigh Ride" employs the full orchestra, even featuring the sound of a whip (made by a percussion slapstick), clip-clopping (temple blocks) and a horse's whinny (trumpet). "Oh yes, the whinny you hear in 'Sleigh Ride' is a trumpet. And it's always a friendly fight among the trumpet players over who gets to play it," he said.

This year's BPO Holiday Pops, to be performed Friday, Dec. 7, at NNU's Brandt Center in Nampa and Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Morrison Center, features the best of the season's bounty: portions of The Nutcracker and The Messiah, plus an appearance from the Boise Philharmonic Master Chorale. Near the end of the evening, guest conductor Chelsea Tipton will turn to the audience and lead attendees in a full-throated sing-along.

click to enlarge BOISE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA
  • Boise Philharmonic Orchestra

"It's an extraordinary experience for a conductor, because you have the gorgeous sound of a magnificent orchestra behind you and then you have 2,000 voices in front of you singing their favorite music," said Garcia.

As a singular event, the BPO's Holiday Pops is a major achievement for a 56-year-old organization—Garcia is the Phil's sixth music director. But Garcia and Hollis Welsh, who in March became executive director of the orchestra, also see the Holiday Pops as a foundation for something new: a full series of pops concerts.

"We already had this wonderful holiday event, always sold out, and we thought, 'Why not build a series around that?' We have the orchestra for it and now we know that we certainly have the audience for a full Pops series," said Garcia.

BPO is still basking in the Pops series' first offering of the 2018-19 season: a screening of Star Wars with the philharmonic playing the legendary soundtrack by Oscar-winner John Williams. Both performances sold out quickly.

"We had long-time board members say, 'I didn't recognize anybody in the audience at those concerts.' They were all new faces," said Welsh. "We absolutely accomplished what we set out to do. I think we really hit it out of the park. It was an incredible experience."

And Garcia, who has conducted orchestras around the world, experienced something new during this fall's Star Wars concert.

"What an experience: hearing the audiences gasp, laugh, cheer or even boo at the bad guys," he said. "Well, we certainly don't get that too often."

A bit more of that movie magic will be a staple of the philharmonic's third and final Pops concert of the season—Hollywood Hits—coming in March 2019.

"You'll hear music from James Bond, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, Rocky, Ben-Hur, The Pink Panther. That's quite a fun evening," said Garcia. "Plus, we'll be playing film clips projected above the orchestra as we play all those familiar themes."

Last spring, when BW interviewed Welsh about some of her hopes for the upcoming season, she made a point of mentioning the then-still-in-planning Pops series.

"I think it will help us reach some new people that hadn't thought about the orchestra as something relevant to them before," she said.

Eight months later, Welsh said that goal was spot-on.

"When I came on board, I had to commit 100 percent to what I know best: connecting and engaging with the community. We're a fantastic orchestra and now more people know that we're fun, friendly, accessible, interesting and dynamic," she said.

Plans are well underway to continue some of that dynamism. But when BW asked which blockbuster film might be shown during The Phil's 2019-20 Pops series, Welsh and Garcia were tight-lipped.

"We're doing our best to secure those rights right now," said Welsh, hesitant to name the film.

Garcia said, "Mum's the word." And when BW asked if the film might be from the adventure or fantasy genres, all he would say is, "You're on the right track. It's very, very popular."

Undoubtedly it's also very, very appropriate for a series titled "Pops."

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