REVIEW: WGBH’s ‘Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends’ holiday music special offers some impressive, lighthearted cheer

Ben Folds, award-winning lead singer of Ben Folds Five, rang in the holiday season with some of Boston’s most renowned performers as he hosted Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends which has been featured on WGBY Public TelevisionNew Hampshire PBS, and WGBH 2 this month.  Ben has collaborated with many acclaimed artists in his over 20-year career including Regina Spektor, William Shatner, Tori Amos, and Weezer.  He is also known for performing with many orchestras throughout the world.  Take a closer look at Tis the Night here,  click here to find out when WGBH will broadcast this show next, or here to stream it online.

In this WGBH holiday special, Ben hosts for the most part, leaving it to renowned Boston choruses such as the Boston Children’s Chorus, Handel and Haydn Society, the Harvard- Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and students from the New England Conservatory to bring in the good cheer.  However, in the few times he collaborated with the artists, this concert special became that much more engaging.

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends offered a selection of well-known holiday songs done in new, insightful ways.  Surrounded by blue festive lights and illuminated snowflakes, Tis the Night opened fittingly with I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day sung warmly by the Boston Children’s Chorus, dressed in red scarves and multicolored shirts as Ben Folds looks on.

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)2

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH 

Handel and Haydn’s Society took on three memorable choruses from Handel’s Messiah, which was a lighthearted take from the classic version.  It was refreshing to hear, though I prefer the classic interpretation.  However, the Handel and Haydn Society’s uplifting, angelic harmony was no less impressive, ending on a triumphant note.

Ben Folds took a break from hosting to join NYC choreographer Caleb Teicher for a catchy version of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.  They were accompanied by New England Conservatory student guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa and student bassist Tyler Wagner.  Affectionately calling Caleb’s tapping “drumming for your feet,” Ben Folds drummed while singing a duet with Caleb, whose freestyle tapping got more remarkable as the beat escalated.

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH) (1)

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 2

Conducted by Music Director Andrew Clark, The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum was a particular highlight.  Their peaceful, silvery vocals enriched their first number, In the Bleak Midwinter as picturesque scenes were shown of new fallen snow topped on trees and covered in fields. Sung entirely acapella, that captivating number was followed by a few more impressive classic Christmas carols.

New England Conservatory student jazz vocalist Darynn Dean, decked out in a shimmering dress and accompanied by student pianist Matthew Thompson, delivered a jazz-infused, airy version of Jingle Bells. Darynn’s agile vocals scat and soared while Matthew’s lighthearted piano solo created an exhilarating medley.

vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH)2

Vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 

Under an illuminated starlit sky, New England Conservatory student soprano Saori Erickson accompanied by student pianist Bethany Pietroniro performed a gorgeous, emotionally-rich version of Ave Maria.

soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing Ave Maria (Sam Brewer - WGBH)

Soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing ‘Ave Maria’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH

Ending on a bright, inviting note with Ben Folds, the Boston Children’s Chorus, and Caleb Teicher collaborating on We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Tis the Night offered a few great reasons why the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.

Queen Latifah, Ben Folds, ‘Jaws,’ and ‘E.T.’ part of the Boston Pops ‘Celebrating John Williams’ season

Sometimes the most tremendous talent is located right in the backyard.  Responsible for a wealth of critically-acclaimed and celebrated music scores over a career that spans six decades and beyond, Boston Pops Laureate conductor John Williams has been nominated for 50 Academy Awards, winning five.  Legendary film scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jaws as well as the Olympic Fanfare and theme and NBC Sunday Night Football are just a glimpse of the spectacular works by the incomparable John Williams.

In honor of John’s 85th birthday and his incredible accomplishments over the years, The Boston Pops dedicate their season to Celebrating John Williams from Wednesday, May 10 through Saturday, June 17 at Boston Symphony Hall.  The season will kick off with multi-talented actress and singer Queen Latifah from Wednesday, May 10 to Thursday, May 11 and finishing off with the 25th anniversary of Gospel Night on Saturday, June 17.

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Queen Latifah opens the Boston Pops season Photo courtesy of Boston Pops

The Boston Pops also offers a pre-season concert series hosted by Indiana Jones star, Karen Allen and the live recording of Boston Pops CD release on Friday, April 7.  Click here for Boston Pops tickets and here for more information on upcoming BSO concerts.

Led by accomplished conductor Keith Lockhart, a compelling roster of renowned artists and celebrity appearances enliven this spring’s Boston Pops season.  The stage and screen have never been brighter with iconic artists such as musicians Ben Folds, Leslie Odom, Jr, and the Party with the B-52s.  Other highlights include The Beatles & Beyond, Jaws in Concert, Mamma Mia, E.T. in Concert, Cirque De la Symphonie,  Lights, Camera, Music, The Music of John Williams, and more.

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Ben Folds Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

The Boston Pops presents the always phenomenal and wildly-popular Gospel Night once again led by Charles Floyd and the return of Film Night with John Williams.  Click here for a full list of performances.

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Leslie Odom, Jr from Hamilton will perform with the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

Click here for tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.