Grand Prairie — In a world full of orchestral pops concerts, there is still only one Boston Pops Orchestra, the preeminent ensemble specializing in the crossover of symphonic and popular music. Celebrating their 134th year of existence, the Pops brings a signature sound, style and flair to its concerts, whether at historic Symphony Hall, by the banks of Boston’s Charles River or on a national tour such as the one that brings the orchestra to The Theatre at Grand Prairie (formerly Verizon Theatre) on March 20.
Although there were many conductors in the early years after the group’s founding in 1885, since Arthur Fiedler accepted the baton in 1930, the position has been one of the most influential and most stable in the classical realm. Fiedler conducted the Pops for almost 50 years bringing it to unrivaled national prominence. His tenure was followed by the legendary John Williams until 1994, when the position was given to Keith Lockhart who has continued the tradition of growth and stability that are the hallmarks of the fabled orchestra. Lockhart took time out from his hectic schedule to discuss the tour, the future, the Pops’ signature sound and iconic musical moments.
TheaterJones: The Boston Pops set the standard for orchestras of its kind. But in the unlikely event of an audience member not knowing anything about you, what is the Boston Pops?
Keith Lockhart: Thank you for that acclamation. I guess you could say we are the orchestra for everyone that doesn’t know how much they love orchestras. We are the most prominent outreach tool of the whole orchestral world. And we play the widest spectrum of great music. There is an Arthur Fiedler quote which I steal mercilessly. “We only play one kind of music at the Boston Pops. The interesting kind.”
What are the highlights of your concert in Grand Prairie?
The program is a reflection on the amazing repertoire of my predecessor John Williams. For his 85th birthday, we recorded a hit album Lights, Camera… Music! Six decades of John Williams (BSO Classics, released May 2017). There have been, what, nine decades of film music and John Williams has film credits in seven of the nine. We’ll be featuring favorite John Williams moments, but we’ll also be playing some of his less familiar films and music. We played this program in February on tour in Florida and the audience reaction was very pleasurable to us. We could hear the response of familiar and the concentration on the pieces that were not as well known.
His music is really great for the orchestra as well. It is so virtuosic that it uses all our great instrumentalists to their full extent.
There is a recognizable Boston Pops sound. What do you do, as conductor, to maintain that but also to keep it fresh?
Well, first and foremost, the sound has to do with having a great orchestra playing music that you don’t ordinarily hear a great orchestra play. But we also try for ownership and authenticity in all styles of music, whether it’s classical or pop or world or jazz. We try to fully inhabit all the types of music that we play. The quality of the music and the sound is self-sustaining. In May, I will be starting my 25th year on the podium and I’m constantly working with the orchestra to look at the entire world of music, whether it’s classical or rock or jazz. We are constantly looking at what songs and what styles of music will be the best for our repertoire.
What big projects are you looking forward to for the next year or so?
I can’t talk about some of the things we’re working on because they haven’t been announced yet. But for now, we are working our Annual Fourth of July concert which will again be carried on the Bloomberg News Network [the original July Fourth Pops concert]. That’s right, we started the tradition for big city orchestra celebrations of the holiday.
This is the Pops’ 134th season, so we will feature big stars as always, like Bernadette Peters, Jane Lynch, Leslie Odom, Jr. And Arlo Guthrie who will help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. In fact, the whole summer, we’re featuring the theme of the Summer of ’69. Not only are we commemorating Woodstock, but we’re featuring the Moon Landing in a special piece we commissioned called From the Earth to the Moon and Beyond by American composer James Beckel. We’ll be celebrating major milestones from the Beatles and the Who as well.
Beyond that, we’re looking forward to our first tour of Japan in 17 years.
Finally, what is it like to stand at the podium and conduct one of those signature Pops moments like the 1812 Overture Finale on the Fourth or the “neighing” trumpet in “Sleigh Ride”?
I’ve conducted more than 2,000 pops concerts at this point, so some of the novelty has worn off, but I still get a thrill just knowing than I’m the one with the baton conducting these classic moments. Like the 1812 Overture, another tradition which, by the way, we started. These are thrilling experiences and it’s great to be at the wheel for them.
Are there Keith Lockhart moments that the next conductor or the one after that will recognize and be thrilled by?
[laughs] I think they are all Boston Pops moments. The first time I met John Williams was on the day of the news conference announcing my hiring. The advice he gave me was, “Don’t try too hard to make this orchestra about you.” And he has been right. The orchestra is the institution itself. I feel like I’ve made changes, mostly positive, but it will always be The Boston Pops first and “Keith Lockhart’s orchestra” somewhere way down the line.