Top of the Pops!
As the 20th conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart has been carrying on the grand tradition of America’s Orchestra since 1995, following in the rather large footsteps of John Williams and Arthur Fiedler.
A musical man for all seasons, Lockhart has kept the hallowed traditions of the Boston Pops intact while also moving forward to embrace contemporary culture, bringing onstage jazz giants like Chris Botti and sports giants like Shaquille O’Neill, performing at Fenway Park, and taking the Pops on the road into the heartland of America.
Keith took the time to answer a few questions about this summer’s Pops season.
The Boston Pops Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade is probably the most beloved patriotic concert in America. How do you manage to keep it so fresh year after year?
You hit the nail on the head as to what the challenge for a concert like that is. We keep it fresh by thinking of different repertoires we can bring in, and by making it a celebration of America in the broadest sense.
We celebrate American performers, American music - jazz and Broadway - and the elements of American popular musical culture. The signature acts – the headliners - change every year, and they change pretty wildly, from country stars to Steven Tyler to Cyndi Lauper. We try to find new pieces and new voices to express patriotism, as opposed to just the same old same old.
Having said that, there is a value to tradition. There are certain things that will never go away in the program. So it’s a combination of bringing in new things and also celebrating the traditions that people expect to be there.
Are you excited about the Boston Pops tour of the minor-league baseball cities this August with Kenny Loggins?
I think it’s a great idea. For me, its summer, baseball, apple pie, mom, hot dogs, America’s orchestra…it’s a great fit. Also, this gives us a chance to play in markets we don’t normally play in, and it’s great for folks, who might not be inclined to bring their families into a concert hall to hear us.
There is a middle-America, heartland sort of thing to the Boston Pops, even though we’re based in Boston, which most people don’t think of as middle- America. So it’s great to celebrate that and to connect to audiences who have watched the Pops on TV for years and listened to recordings.
For example, we’re playing in Birmingham, Alabama…we have never played in Alabama during my time or John Williams’ time. I’m not sure whether we did in Arthur Fiedler’s time or not. But it’s certainly been 30 or 40 years since we have.
What’s it like for an orchestra playing in ballparks? Are there acoustical issues you need to address? How do the flutes and piccolos come through!
It’s not as bad as you might expect. Our orchestra and our technical people are very used to playing everywhere, and frankly, the acoustics of playing in most ballparks are better than playing at the Hatch Shell. A ballpark is a neutral space; it’s big enough so that you don’t hear the sound coming back to you from the side of a building, and if you have a good sound man, and a stage where you can hear each other, it’s usually successful.
What’s it been like for ‘America’s Orchestra’ to perform at Fenway Park - ‘America’s Baseball Park’?
It’s great to live in a town where the Pops is an equally beloved tradition alongside the sports teams. Bostonians are passionate about a number of their institutions, and the Red Sox and Pops are like a natural fit.
What do you know about your Scottish heritage?
I wish I knew more about it. Both of my parents’ families have been in this country since the mid-19th century and nobody was really attuned to their heritage. My family was never even in Scotland until 2007 when I had gigs in Glasgow with the Scottish National Orchestra.
One of these days I keep promising myself that I’m going back there and dig up more on the Lockhart heritage, which comes from both a family curiosity and a love of Scotch whisky.
See additional BITA profiles on Keith:
by Michael P. Quinlin