Dennis Alves is Director of Artistic Planning for the Boston Pops. He oversees all aspects of Pops program planning at Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, private corporate programs and fundraising events, tours, and television and recording projects. Dennis was a professional musician, performing as principal trumpet with the New Japan Philharmonic under Seiji Ozawa, the Boston Ballet Orchestra, and the Harvard Chamber Orchestra. He also performed with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler, Harry Ellis Dickson, John Williams and Keith Lockhart, and was an extra player with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Today, Dennis is gleefully focused on Holiday Pops. We sat down with Dennis to talk about the evolution of Holiday Pops, some of his favorite memories and moments, and how you, our donors, help make his job so enjoyable.
InTune: We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Holiday Pops this season, and you’ve been with the Pops for nearly 33 years. During your tenure, how has the Holiday Pops changed? How has it remained the same?
Dennis Alves: Everyone coming to the Holiday Pops craves the classic holiday hits – “Sleigh Ride,” “Twelve Days of Christmas,” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” We want to keep the performances fresh while also playing those in-demand classics. It’s fun to find ways to honor tradition while also infusing new ideas and adding special treats for the audiences.
When Keith Lockhart joined the Boston Pops in 1995, Holiday Pops grew so much, and the number of people working on the concerts grew. From the ushers to the food service staff to the musicians themselves, we’re all coming together to create something magical. That magic has been a constant, so while the production of the concerts continues to evolve and reflect of-the-times elements and current events, the collaboration and dedication from everyone remains the same. I work with the best people in the business.
InTune: What is your favorite Holiday Pops memory? Why has it stuck with you?
DA: It’s hard to choose just one! The holidays are such a joyful time, especially here at Symphony Hall. The place looks beautiful, and people have been coming for years. Parents bringing their kids, grandparents bringing their grandkids, and everybody gets all dressed up. When Santa shows up, the energy goes through the roof, and I look forward to that every year. It’s always about making people happy. Watching people go out the door with a skip in their step because of what they just heard, that’s a wonderful thing.
When my own children were little, we brought them to the Holiday Pops. They still come and it’s become this special family tradition. My son, Patrick, actually works here as Front of House Associate Manager for Patron Services, and we love sharing the Holiday Pops behind-the-scenes experience together too. I love that my professional and personal lives collide through the Holiday Pops.
We also have the best arrangement of the Twelve Days of Christmas, hands down. It’s a crowd pleaser every year and always one of my favorite moments of the Holiday Pops season, especially if Keith goes into the crowd with his microphone!
InTune: Music is such a powerful connector, and the festive spirit of Holiday Pops makes those connections even more fun. When it comes to connecting with the audience, what fun moments have you seen over the years?
DA: I love when the players talk to audience members from the stage at intermission or before the concert. Larry Wolfe is a principal base of the Pops, and he always charms the audience sitting near him. And when Keith makes his way through the audience, summoning them to sing with all their might, it’s the best. The young ones are just so funny, and they really get into singing and dancing. It’s fun to see those connections. Everyone is just so open and ready to be delighted.
I also enjoy how the players decorate their own stands to showcase their spirit. It’s a small but important expression of their own traditions and beliefs, and we encourage them to do that.
InTune: You’re away from Symphony Hall in your own home listening to holiday music. What are you listening to?
DA: Honestly, I still listen to the classics we play! They’re so catchy. I’ll also turn on the radio and find the stations playing holiday music. Everyone once and a while, I’ll hear something we don’t have in our program, and I’ll make the suggestion to add it.
InTune: Our donors are so passionate about the orchestra and its talented musicians, and they love to understand how their gifts make an impact. If you had a donor sitting with you today, what message would you deliver to them?
DA: First, they have great musical taste! All jokes aside, we are so thankful for their support. Be it through donations or attending shows, our donors are so committed and generous. They directly impact our ability to bring music to the public, to share our artistry. Throughout the pandemic, they showed their loyalty, and we felt so lucky to have such an amazing donor community during that time. Today, we’re still just as lucky, and love being able to connect with donors in person in the Hall. They really are a vital part of our work and performance.