New York Pops Concert Proves There’s the Nothing Like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

Megan Hilty


by Matt Smith


There’s a chill in the air, and carolers on every corner — it must be the most wonderful time of the year. And there’s no better place to ring in the festive season than at Carnegie Hall with the luscious, dynamic sound of the fabulous New York Pops. Throw in the dulcet harmonies of Essential Voices and the exuberantly vocal chops of Broadway superstar Megan Hilty, and it’s easy to see why the  evening was appended with this fitting subtitle.

In true Pops fashion, this was no ordinary holiday concert. The evening mixed traditional Christmas fare with lesser-known holiday-themed gems from the musical theatre canon. And let us tell you, there’s nothing to revitalize the monotony of hearing those same old, humdrum Christmas songs on the radio ad infinitum every December quite like hearing it performed by a scrumptious, full-sounding 78-piece orchestra. And this team did not disappoint! From the gritty oom-pah-pah of those brassy trumpets and tuba to the light, flighty delicacy of the flutes and violins, the orchestra soared just as much on the old standards, such as “Carol of the Bells” and “Sleigh Ride” (the latter with contest winner 8-year-old Charlotte Hall at the baton!) as they did with their reimaginings, including an elegant introductory “Holiday Overture” and a bouncy, bold Dixieland-esque  “Jingle Bell Rock” (the latter arranged by Pops conductor Steven Reineke).

Steven Reineke

Equally full-sounding were the stellar Essential Voices, led by Judith Clurman, who charmed the room with an eclectic catalogue, which featured everything from “We Need a Little Christmas” to “Ma’oz Tsur (Rock of My Salvation” to “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” (John Williams’ theme from Home Alone 2).

And then, of course, there’s Hilty, who need only take a breath to garner resounding applause from her audience. With her signature verve, she lends her smooth and silky vocals to jazzy revamps of such classics as “Santa Baby” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” To boot, the Smash sensation, looking radiant in a glittery black, then white, evening gown, remained energetic and bubbly throughout; between songs, she regaled us with her obsessive-compulsive prep for the Christmas season, while pausing briefly — and frequently — to promote her album, A Merry Little Christmas, now available on iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby.

In short, everyone got their chance to shine. And yet, where the players really hit their high notes — ha! — was when each of these separate elements came together as one — the perfect marriage of voice to instrument, beautifully blending within each other to create a hauntingly electrifying — and unifying — result. After all, isn’t coming together in peace and harmony what this wintry season is all about? If so, it’s perhaps indeed most apt that the night was capped off with a “Jingle Jangle Sing-Along” chock-full of all your holiday faves — led by the big guy in red himself, no less! — in which the audience was called upon to join in on the fun and further spread the joy and amplify the holiday cheer.

Steven Reineke, Megan Hilty, Santa, Elf


Steven Reineke, Judith Clurman, Megan Hilty


All things considered, the orchestra should be commended for their rousing Channukah medley, and the overall decision not to let the evening be overpowered by the Christian holiday staples. It’s a thoughtful one to make in terms of music, especially when considering the plethora of bouncy, familiar holiday hits to choose from, but doing so exemplifies their commitment to inclusivity, welcoming everyone through the common bond of music and song. Another step, again, toward closing that gap and bringing our nation closer together.

Simply put, covering all of the holidays with traditional and non-traditional selections, while highlighting orchestra, chorus, and soloist in equal parts and harmony, the evening was a magical celebration of the joyous season which proves it’s the most wonderful time of the year indeed.


Photos: Richard Termine


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, featuring Megan Hilty, Essential Voices USA, and the New York Pops, was presented December 15th & 16th at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and 7th Avenue); Steven Reineke conducted. For more information regarding future performances, please visit or