An unexpected bit of Christmas magic improved the Holiday Pops season opener Thursday evening, although the Symphony Hall staff probably considered it a glitch.
The big video screen refused to drop down during the first act closer, a world-premiere "Polar Express" hybrid featuring words from the beloved children's book set to music from the movie. So we were left to enjoy the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, along with the night's best special effect, narrator Will LeBow.
The local actor's ringing recitation of author Chris Van Allsburg's words, along with the music and singers, brought a little genuine holiday wonder that would not have been improved by the animated sight of Tom Hanks.
Speaking of old school, you can't go wrong decking Symphony Hall with garlands and little white lights, then projecting snowflakes over it all.
Conductor Keith Lockhart noted the current frightful economy, and how Christmas music can lift our spirits. There was a nice moment when a subdued version of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" gave way to the brighter morning of "Go Tell It on the Mountain." "Waltz of the Flowers" from "The Nutcracker" also showed the orchestra at its best.
But Holiday Pops is about tradition and family and fun, not so much the high-falutin' stuff. And that was true in the second half, at least until deadline forced our exit during the audience carol sing. (Santa must not have recognized the press table when he stopped by, because he didn't leave us any coal.)
Among the less thrilling traditions observed was the ritual visit of the three general managers from a major orchestra sponsor, in this case Fairmont hotels, who clowned around with Lockhart on "Sleighride."
"The 12 Days of Christmas" is the "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" of holiday carols - it always goes on 50 percent too long. But the Pops and chorus went turtledoving through a custom version with snippets of everything from Beethoven's Fifth to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." For most in the audience that appeared to be the highlight of the evening, and, well, you can decide how you feel about that.