BWW Interview: Keith Lockhart Discusses Billy Porter and the 2014 Boston Pops Season
The conductor was speaking by phone from his home on the outskirts of Boston. "My primary job with my residence remains with the Boston Pops. The good thing about my job with the BBC Concert Orchestra is that it is not that time intensive. I'm really over there maybe eight weeks out of the year. That's a fairly small commitment for being principal conductor. It's just because although that orchestra has a very busy calendar, they do so many different things that principal conductor services aren't always needed because whatever composer/arranger is doing the work they're playing for ends up conducting. It's not so bad."
Lockhart is enthusiastic about the Boston Pops' current present season. "I say that every year but I think it's a really, really interesting season. I think it's one of the most diverse that we've ever managed to put together. For Broadway World fans, it's exciting because we have one of the most exciting debuts because for the first time we'll be presenting Billy Porter--the Tony Award winning star of Broadway's KINKY BOOTS in his orchestral concert premiere. I have a personal connection with this," Lockhart continues, "because I've known Billy since my college teaching days at Carnegie Mellon. It's amazing to see how his career has blossomed like this."
The maestro explains that Porter will be performing songs from KINKY BOOTS as well as music from his previous album "At the Corner of Broadway and Soul" and music from his soon-to-be-released album. "I have to say that even when Billy was 18 years old he had a magnetic personality and he's really amazing on stage," Lockhart says. "He has a great voice and great dance skills."
New York theater-goers may recall Leonard Nimoy's performance as Dr. Martin Dysart in the original Broadway run of EQUUS when he took over the role from Anthony Perkins. He also appeared in a play titled FULL CIRCLE. "Leonard Nimoy will be joining us with guest conductor Sarah Hicks, who is returning to Boston after making her debut with the Pops in the past Christmas season. She's doing a program of space and space-inspired music called 'Out of This World' and who better to take audiences on an inter-planetary journey than Mr. Nimoy?"
"Speaking of great Broadway stars, the Pops' 2014 season opened with Jason Alexander as our guest star," Lockhart says. "People know him as George Costanza from TV's 'Seinfeld' but the first time I ever saw him was on stage in 1988 in JEROME ROBBINS' BROADWAY when he won the Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical. He's a Boston University graduate and Leonard Nimoy is from Cambridge, so we've got a couple of local boys coming home."
Like Porter, Melissa Etheridge will be making her orchestral debut with the orchestra this season. "She's a Berkley grad," the maestro adds, "and has gone on to be a major force as a singer/songwriter." DREAMGIRLS star Jennifer Holliday will also be performing with the Pops in 2014.
The Pops will be doing a sort of 1920's speakeasy kind of show which is Lockhart's favorite from a musical standpoint. "It'll feature music from a rich phase of American music and will feature selections from Ellington to Gershwin. There was a time when jazz was formulating itself in the big cities. We'll be showcasing a New York group called The Hot Sardines who have to be seen to be believed," he says. "This will also be their orchestral debut."
The orchestra will be showcased to its highest point early in their season during performances of the beloved film classic THE WIZARD OF OZ. "We'll be showing the complete film in a beautifully restored print--accompanied live by the entire Boston Pops," the conductor explains. "It's the hardest challenge for me without question. You see, when a movie score is recorded for the first time, you record the orchestra track and then people sing to them. For a project like this, they've blanked out the orchestra, leaving only the voices and you've got to put the orchestra tracks back with them. As you can imagine, the whole concept of putting the thing together is tough. It's all very much based on a conductor being able to follow the film cuing, so I'll have my work cut out for me."
Those who have attended performances that Keith Lockhart has conducted at the Kennedy Center, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Lyric Opera and any of the other venues he's worked in in addition to the Boston Pops know that he is most certainly up to the demands of conducting a film score live. Music lovers in the Boston area would be remiss if they didn't attend one of the Pops concerts he's conducting at Boston's beautiful Symphony Hall this season.
To learn more about the Boston Pops' 2014 season and to order tickets, go to: Tickets and Events | Boston Symphony Orchestra | bso.org