BWW Interviews: Holiday Concerts with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops


The month of December brings with it numerous traditions:  colored lights, tinsel, greeting cards,  fruitcakes, and visits from friends we may not have seen in a while.  Such is the case with Keith Lockhart’s annual check-in with Broadway World.  At this point it wouldn’t be Christmas without hearing from the genial maestro of the world renowned Boston Pops. 

Perhaps the nicest news he had to impart is that he’s become a father again.  Young Christopher had just turned nine months old and he joins older brothers Edward Kellen and Aaron; all boys.  “Yes, I can’t seem to get out of that mode,” Lockhart comments. “I don’t think I’m going to keep trying, either.”

In addition to the Boston Pops, Lockhart is the principal conductor and artistic director of the BrevardMusicCenter and in 2010 was named principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra—something which keeps him visiting London quite regularly.  “We’re on tour with the BBC orchestra in the States in February, primarily in the Midwest in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana before heading to the West Coast.”  The BBC Orchestra doesn’t play in the New York area very often because “It’s a highly competitive market to get into,” he explains.  “It’s hard to get audiences because there are so many things going on in New York. It’s like playing in London.” His position with the BBC Orchestra had him conducting the orchestra for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee Festivities.

Right now, though, Lockhart is preparing for the Boston Pops’ Holiday Season.  “We are right on the brink of the musical cliff, if you will,” Lockhart explains.  “We’ll be starting a grand total of 45 concerts, starting December 1st in Storrs, Worcester, MA and then continuing down to the Tilles Center on Long Island on the afternoon of the 2nd, rapidly followed another concert in Newark, NJ that evening.  Back home we open at the Hall on the 5th  with a few concerts in Wooster, Manchester and Bridgeport, CT— a venue we haven’t performed in for about three years.”

“Our guests for the tour are an a cappella vocal group called Five by Design,” he continues, “They’ve played with orchestras all over the country but we’ve never worked with them.  We’ve talked to them for years and finally this seemed like the right time.  They had a good and engaging Christmas show and they’ll be joining us for the whole gamut of things from ‘O Come o Come Emmanuel’ and ‘The Carol of the Bells’ on one end to “Let it Snow’ and ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ on the other.  They will also be doing the honors for narrating and singing our Boston Pops version of ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’. It’ll be great fun.”

In Boston’s beautiful Symphony Hall, the program will be somewhat different.  “First off,” Lockhart explains, “we have the Tanglewood Festival Chorus joining us.  They’re a first-rate group, but we can’t take them on tour with us because of the logistics involved with a chorus that size.  In the Symphony Hall programs we’ll be joined by  baritone James Demler who’ll be singing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ ‘Fantasia on Christmas Carols’ with us and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.  Our special guest for our big corporate fundraiser called Presidents at Pops is Vanessa Williams and that’ll be great, too.  Obviously, though, it can’t happen thirty eight times within the month.  So it’ll be basically two and a half programs floating around over the course of December.” 

Keith Lockhart will conduct almost every concert except for five in the Hall.  “Those are the ones when we’re out on the road and we’re having simultaneous performances in the Hall.  I can’t be two places at once, otherwise I’d do all of them.” Lockhart says.  “So I’m conducting forty concerts in the span of a month.”

How do a conductor’s arms deal with such a heavy schedule upon the podium?  “They get pretty sore and I take a lot of ibuprofen,” the maestro explains with a hearty laugh.  “Actually, when you’re in the middle of doing them, it doesn’t hurt so much.  It hurts about a week later when you stop conducting that the muscles seize back up.”

The Pops are also gearing up for their biennial Florida tour in the Southeast.  “It includes dates in Virginia, North and South Carolina, as well as our normal dates in Florida.  That takes place at the end of February and the beginning of March.  Then we’ll be back to the 2012 spring season in Boston. Here’s a bit of a scoop for Broadway World, “ Lockhart says, “because I don’t think it’s been released yet:  our season will include a guest appearance by Matthew Morrison—currently best known as the star of television’s GLEE, but with significant Broadway chops.  He’s been with us before.  He was in our Sondheim tribute a few years ago.  Also, Megan Hilty, the star of television’s SMASH and is on the fast track to stardom, will be joining us.  We’re also doing a tribute to Marvin Hamlisch for obvious reasons.” The Hamlisch tribute will feature Donna McKechnie, who starred in the original cast of the composer’s A Chorus Line, and Jodi Benson of The Little Mermaid fame.

Lovers of Christmas music have a great treat to look forward during the next holiday season.  The Boston Pops are in the process of recording another holiday album; their third under Lockhart’s baton.  “It’s being recorded live, so what we did was stretch the repertoire we wanted over two seasons, that way0 we didn’t have to define the program by what we needed to record.  This is the second year of recording it and it will be released in time for Christmas 2013.”  In concerts during the past few seasons, the Pops have been performing a remarkable arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” which features references to dozens of other recognizable tunes like “Surrey With a Fringe On Top,” “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “SwanLake” and numerous other melodies.  It brings down the house every time it’s performed live.  Is there any chance that this will be included in the new recording?  “I think there’s a pretty good chance it will be,” Lockhart comments with a laugh.

There’s no doubt that the upcoming Christmas CD will be an excellent addition to many collections, but there’s no way to duplicate the thrill of attending a live concert by the Boston Pops.  There’s a certain festivity that takes place whether the orchestra is playing on tour or in Symphony Hall. Click the link  and book your tickets now!

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