Very Merry POPS: Q&A with Conductor Michael Krajewski

Christmas tree with ornaments.

Very Merry POPS: Q&A with Conductor Michael Krajewski

The holiday season, marked by twinkling lights, festive cheer, and warm feelings, is always anticipated with much zeal as a celebration to end another year. While many of us are ready to conclude 2020, December still presents ample opportunity to reflect and revel with the people and traditions we cherish most.

Former Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski leads a concert at Jones Hall.

Through careful planning and creative solutions, we are pleased to present our annual Very Merry POPS in a unique format that’s sure to delight and inspire. Former Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski—who began the Very Merry POPS tradition 20 years ago—explains how he reworked this treasured Houston Symphony staple in a way fitting for this year.

Houston Symphony: What’s it like to re-program a show that’s normally a grand affair with a large amount of musicians to one that allows for social distancing on stage? How difficult was it to find works that allow for smaller onstage forces?
Michael Krajewski: Because of the pandemic, I’ve been anticipating the need to holiday music playable by a downsized orchestra. It took some time, but I was able to find more than enough excellent possibilities. I ended up with a nice variety of holiday selections that I know will provide an entertaining and uplifting experience for our audience.

HS: Related to the first question, how do you downsize your orchestra and still retain that festive, large scale Very Merry POPS atmosphere that Houston audiences have come to know and love?
MK: We won’t be able to use the Houston Symphony Chorus for our concerts this year, but we’ll have a wonderfully talented vocalist, Chelsea Cymone, who will sing holiday favorites. Our program is also going to feature several individual musicians of the orchestra. Even though there won’t be as many musicians on stage as usual, I can assure you the music will be spirited and joyful. Audience members will enjoy carols and holiday favorites performed by world class musicians. The program will definitely put everyone in the holiday mood.

HS: What’s your personal favorite holiday carol?
MK: I never get tired of the traditional Christmas carols—”Deck the Halls,” “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” etc.—especially when they’re performed by skilled musicians.

HS: What holiday plans fo you have to look forward to in this most unusual year?
MK: My wife and I planned to go on a cruise over the holidays, but it was canceled. Instead, we’ll take advantage of the fact that we live in Florida by going for bike rides and long walks, and enjoying the beautiful weather.

The Houston Symphony presents more performances of Very Merry POPS on December 18–20. Whether you attend our socially distanced concerts in person, or watch live from home with a mug of eggnog, we wish you all a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!

—Mark Bailes

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