BWW Interviews: Boston Pop's Keith Lockhart

In the past 125 years, plenty of things have come and gone in our society. Horse and buggy rides used to be a common mode of transportation but are now relegated to being novelties that tourists indulge in. Women no longer lace themselves into corsets, and men no longer Brilliantine their hair. Black vinyl records now exist solely on the shelves of collectors, and if one were to order a strawberry phosphate at the local luncheonette, he or she would be greeted by a look of utter confusion on the other side of the counter. However, the Boston Pops Orchestra, founded in 1885 is still performing on tour and in Boston's beautiful Symphony Hall. According to some mavens, it's an orchestra that has truly improved with age.

Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, had expressed a desire to have the group branch out and perform "concerts of a lighter kind of music" and the result was the birth of the "Promenade Concerts": the original title of the now famous Boston Pops. There were a series of conductors for this prestigious group, but it was violinist Arthur Fiedler who stepped up to the conductor's podium in 1930 and brought enormous popularity to the orchestra. Fiedler led the group until his death in 1979 and he was succeeded by John Williams, the composer of such Hollywood scores as INDIANA JONES and STAR WARS. Maestro Williams stepped down in 1993 and Keith Lockhart, who currently leads the orchestra, was appointed to the position in 1995.

As preparations for the 125th Anniversary Celebration were underway, Keith Lockhart spoke by telephone from his Boston home. There was much happy confusion in the Lockhart family, as the Maestro and his wife Emiley, recently welcomed Edward Kellen Lockhart to their family. Edward weighed in at 8 lbs 7 oz and could be heard cooing in the background as his father spoke about the upcoming season. "Cooing is good," said Lockhart. "It's much better than the wailing which happens when he's not cooing." It should be noted that this is the second child for Lockhart, whose son Aaron is from a previous marriage.

The 125th Anniversary will begin with festivities outside Boston's Symphony Hall which will be festooned with balloon columns and special lighting to highlight the edifice's unique architecture. A red carpet will be in place outside the main entrance to the building and a procession of horse drawn carriages will bring actors costumed as Henry Lee Higginson and Isabella Stewart Gardiner into the Hall that will be decorated with foliage plants for the occasion. Lockhart will ride upon an antique fire engine as he makes his entrance into the building that evening. It promises to be something very special for everyone involved.

Of course, the Boston Pops is about making music and the program for that night figures to be more than just exciting. "As is appropriate for a significant milestone like this, we're going to have a little bit of a look back and hopefully something of a look forward," says Lockhart. "What we're trying to do in these concerts is celebrate 125 years. Actually it's hard to celebrate that entire span of time, so we're focusing on the last 80 years of the orchestra's existence. That marks the time from when Arthur Fiedler came in 1930. As everyone knows, the Pops is essentially a product of 1930 onwards. The previous 45 years were pretty much a set-up for that."

The music for the Opening Night concert will reflect the light classical repertoire that the Pops has become known for, such as Suppe's "Light Cavalry Overture" and Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue". According to Lockhart, "John Williams will be playing some of his own music because nobody does it better than he does." The conductor continues by saying, "We will have cameo appearances by Broadway's Idina Menzel and by Doc Severinson. Doc was actually on my Opening Night concert with the Pops in 1995. He's an old musical friend. I've been working with him for about 20 years now That's not old as far as he's concerned, but it's certainly old as far as I'm concerned!" Lockhart quips with a chuckle. "The funny thing is that Doc is the only living person we've identified who has performed with Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and me. That, in itself, is an interesting position to inhabit."

When pressed as to what musical selections Idina Menzel will perform, Lockhart coyly
remarked, "Oh, probably something from WICKED!" before bursting into a laugh. The truth of the matter is that at the time of our conversation, Ms Menzel's part of the program hadn't been solidified.

The rest of the Opening Week continues with the orchestra still paying homage to their 125 years but adding more Idina Menzel and really looking toward the future toward the end of the week with a Latin Fusion and Hip Hop import from LA called Ozomatli.

The rest of the 125th season of the Pops promises to be equally impressive with appearances by 92 year old jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who worked with Fiedler perhaps 40 years ago; there'll be a tribute to Duke Ellington who performed with the Pops in the 1950's, as well as a Cole Porter tribute featuring Broadway's Kelli O'Hara and Brian D'Arcy James along with the wonderful Tanglewood Vocal Fellows. There will also be a Rogers and Hammerstein Movie Night that everyone seems to be looking forward to. Maureen McGovern will lend her vocal skills to the Pops and Arlo Guthrie is scheduled to perform with them this season.

Something special is on the agenda for the Pops on May 18th. "It's a new piece based on the words of the three Kennedy Brothers and it's called The Dream Lives On. As you probably heard, it will be narrated by Robert Di Niro, Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris-an all-star cast by any definition," Lockhart mentions. "It's been my dream for years to create a piece that was similar to what Copeland did with the words of Abraham Lincoln called A Lincoln Portrait. John F. Kennedy was probably second only to Lincoln in terms of his speeches. With the death of Senator Ted Kennedy this past year, we felt that the words of all three of the brothers would provide a body of work and inspiration so we decided to make about all three of the Kennedy brothers. You can't get more ‘Massachusetts' than that!" The music for The Dream Lives On was composed by Peter Boyer, while the lyrics were contributed by Tony Award winner Lynn Ahrens. Boyer is the composer of Ellis Island: The Dream of America, which was written for the re-dedication of Ellis Island a few years ago. "I thought it was a really strong work," explains the Maestro, " I listened to it a second time and felt that his music had the right sound to marry with the words of the Kennedys" When The Dream Lives On" is performed at the Tanglewood Music Festival on July 18th, the triumvirate of Di Niro, Freeman and Harris will be replaced by Alec Baldwin who will take on all three of the roles. Chris Cooper will do the same when the Pops perform this piece in Hyannis on August 1st.

For those who have never attended a Pops concert, this season might be the time to do it. The schedule of performers couldn't be more impressive and the city of Boston is only a four hour bus ride from mid-town Manhattan. The trip is even shorter if one prefers to fly. Of course, a horse and buggy ride will take much longer, if that's your preferred method of transportation. No matter how you choose to get there, the experience of attending the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall is a memory that will remain with you for years to come.

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From This Author Joseph F. Panarello

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