BWW Interview: Maestro Keith Lockhart Talks the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and this Sunday's Concert at Strathmore

BWW Interview: Maestro Keith Lockhart Talks the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and this Sunday's Concert at Strathmore
Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. Photo courtesy of the venue.

It's getting to that time of year when we think about things that are truly American. We might think about baseball games and hot dogs. There's also, of course, the annual Fourth of July concert on PBS featuring Maestro Keith Lockhart and the world famous Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. If you can't wait until the 4th however, you can catch this true American institution on Sunday, April 8 at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, MD. Performances are at 2 PM and 7 PM.

Here is something to consider for longevity's sake. Although the orchestra has been around since 1885 and had seventeen different conductors prior to 1930, there have only been three principal conductors since then. Conductors tend to move around a lot, so this is pretty much unheard of for any orchestra. Arthur Fiedler became conductor in 1930 and remained on the podium until his death in 1979. He was then followed by film composer/conductor John Williams who remained in the position until 1993 (he was then named Conductor Laureate in 1995). A few interim conductors then took the baton - including Marvin Hamlisch - before Keith Lockhart assumed it in 1995. 23 years later, he still enjoys bringing music to the masses with his legendary ensemble of players. The Boston Pops Esplanada Orchestra includes members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, auditioned players, and, on occasion, freelance players.

Lockhart's received formal training at Carnegie Mellon University. He trained under the renowned Istvan Jaray. During our brief conversation, he explained how he started out as a pianist, but also has a background as a clarinetist. Lockhart came to the Boston Pops via the Cincinnati Pops where he was associate conductor under Erich Kunzel.

Those of us of a certain age remember watching Evening at Pops on PBS every week and watching the orchestra perform with such artists as the Carpenters, Kristin Chenoweth, Jason Alexander, and Issac Stern. The list goes on and on. According to Lockhart, the program had a great run of 34 years, but due to an aging audience and funding challenges, the series ended in 2004. Luckily for us, the orchestra and Maestro Lockhart still do yearly televised holiday specials.

For those that are attending Strathmore this Sunday (and you all should be), expect to experience a program that Lockhart (he says, unimaginatively) calls The Best of the Boston Pops. It will show off the versatility of the orchestra and feature music by John Williams, Astor Piazolla, Bernstein, Copland, Gershwin, and Queen. As an added bonus audience members have the opportunity participate in the traditional Pops sing-along, which can be traced all the way back to Arthur Fiedler. Something for everyone on the bill, right?

The orchestra has recorded many, many albums throughout the years. Even if you couldn't attend aa live performance in Boston or elsewhere, you could always listen to them on your (I'm dating myself) turntable. The latest recording features the music of John Williams. It is the first recording the orchestra has done of his music without Williams conducting.

It's certainly a time when orchestras have trouble staying afloat and keeping conductors for any length of time. On the topic of his longevity, Lockhart very simply says, "It's hard to find a better gig."

As to why the orchestra has lasted for so long, he notes that the Boston Pops was the first orchestra where you didn't have to be classical music fans to enjoy the music. Lockhart described how people all over the country come up to him and talk about watching Evening at Pops.

Be a part of this 133 year tradition this Sunday. Come on out to Strathmore for Maestro Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra. Whether it's your first or 100th time seeing them, good music is good music and some things, thank goodness, never get old.



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