Marvin Hamlisch's "Holiday Pops" brings snow and other holiday magic to Seattle's Benaroya Hall.

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Concert Review |

Don’t be alarmed by what sounds like a giant vacuum cleaner turned on during the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s lovely rendition of “White Christmas.”

What seemed initially like a terrible gaffe in an otherwise wonderful opening night of “Holiday POPS with Marvin Hamlisch” (continuing through Sunday) turned out to be a cue to the audience to look up and see something unexpected.

Snowflakes were falling from on high in Benaroya Hall, thanks to some unseen if unfortunately noisy machine.

They were pretty good, faux snowflakes, too: wet, cold and ephemeral, vanishing on contact with one’s skin.

If the sound was distracting, the moment was still sweet and funny. Hamlisch, the symphony’s principal pops conductor, expressed such a strong wish during the show that snow would hit Seattle, he actually played a video of meteorologist Steve Pool predicting the likelihood of a winter wonderland around here. (Not much chance, Pool says.)

Wish fulfillment was something of a theme for “Holiday Pops,” beginning with a lively visit from St. Nick (played by basso-buffo vocalist Kevin Glavin, whose powerful voice rocked the house on “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”). Mugging and wisecracking his way through the audience, Santa promised a few of the many children in attendance they would get what they want for Christmas. (Note to parents: yikes!)

Kids are central to “Holiday Pops,” but the irrepressible Hamlisch has something for everyone.

There’s a funny bit featuring baritone Chad Jennings as a disheveled, holiday casualty singing the darkly comic “The Twelve Days After Christmas.” There’s a “new and improved” Hanukkah song, “Chanukah Lights,” sung by soprano Megan Hart, who soars on the number.

Hart also shines on a moving “Ave Maria,” and the Seattle Choral Company proves glorious several times, especially on John Rutter’s “The Very Best Time of Year.” The group’s lush harmonies and the orchestra’s delicate touch on that song make one want to melt in a swirl of emotions or embrace whoever one brought to the show.

Hamlisch treats almost every number as if it were like a hearth, warming an audience into deep feelings and dreams. The old Christmas chestnuts — “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Silent Night” — are soothing in his glowing arrangements.

Which is not to say the witty maestro doesn’t have his customary moments of unfiltered, often hilarious verbal riffing. At one point, Hamlisch randomly told a joke about his cardiologist’s sneaky plan for averting a lawsuit.

Congratulating the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Northwest Boychoir and composer Samuel Jones on their Grammy nomination for “The Shoe Bird” audio book, Hamlisch had some advice.

“If you’re up against Britney Spears,” he said, “write your concession speech now. But I’m voting for you.”

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com