The Boston Pops Orchestra, founded in 1885, gained national recognition during the substantial tenure of Arthur Fiedler, who was its music director from 1930 through 1979. John Williams left his own legacy conducting the so-called America’s Orchestra from 1980 to 1993. That left big shoes to fill when the Boston baton was passed to Keith Lockhart, in 1995.
Lockhart, 54, has conducted some 1,500 Boston Pops concerts, appeared in more than 70 TV shows with the orchestra, including the annual “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular” on CBS. He and the Pops have released eight albums with RCA Victor and four self-produced albums including the new “A Boston Pops Christmas — Live From Symphony Hall.”
The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and Lockhart come to the Valley and Orange County this week, where they will be performing a wide-ranging program, including works by Williams (the Boston Pops laureate conductor), Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Duke Ellington, as well as new arrangements of songs by Queen and ABBA.
Lockhart discussed Fiedler’s legacy, the Very Best of the Boston Pops Tour and the orchestra’s holiday CD over the phone from his home in Boston.
How many concerts do you conduct in Boston every year?
The Pops collectively does about 100 concerts a year in Boston and another 20 concerts in other venues in New England, especially out in Tanglewood, our summer home.
You’re also the chief conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. How do you juggle both batons?
I am over there probably only eight weeks out of the year, so it’s a little less intense schedule than the Pops. It’s a lovely relationship that allows me stay here most of the time. I have two small kids at home.
It’s remarkable to think that Arthur Fiedler was the conductor of the Boston Pops for almost 50 years.
While Fiedler was here he managed to put the orchestra front and center through a lot of different venues. It was one of the first orchestras to record in this country and to record extensively. So extensively, that probably by World War II every house that had a gramophone had a Boston Pops record. It was the first orchestra to go on TV regularly with “Evening at the Pops,” which started in 1970 and didn’t stop until 2004. All of those things gave the orchestra a national branding, which we have tried to maintain.
The tour is called the Very Best of the Boston Pops. So what are some of the highlights of the concert?
We consider ourselves America’s Orchestra and thus, the core of our repertory is really great music written for orchestra by American composers.
The first half includes Dvorak’s “Largo” from the “New World Symphony” because he came to the United States at the end of the 19th century during which he wrote the “New World Symphony” and served as a cheerleader for a just developing real unique American-style school of composition.
Besides Dvorak, the music includes Copland’s “Rodeo” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” The second part we go a little bit broader into the world of Broadway, world music and some contemporary stuff, as well as paying tribute to John Williams.
I read the Pops has an amazing library of arrangements.
It’s literally something like 3,000 unique arrangements. During the Fiedler era, the orchestra tended to go to one or two selected orchestrators, especially Leroy Anderson, who did so much for the Pops. He wrote “Sleigh Ride” and “The Typewriter.”
These days we actually put our work out to several arrangers and match arrangers to the project.
Speaking of “Sleigh Ride,” I’m sure that’s included on your new holiday CD, “A Boston Pops Christmas — Live From Symphony Hall.”
Of course, and a new arrangement of “The 12 Days of Christmas” we first did about five years ago, which has become the modern “Sleigh Ride.” It’s a total showstopper. It’s almost impossible to describe. It has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. It’s witty and fun without being pretentious.
This is the third holiday album that I have done with the Pops in my time here. What we did for the first time is record a live Christmas album with the idea being to try to capture the ambience of being at a Boston Pops Christmas concert. For our audiences back here on the East Coast, one of the things they know us for most is that we do 45 to 50 Christmas shows every year in Boston and surrounding New England areas. They have become a tradition here.
Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra
When and where: 8 p.m. Thursday at the Valley Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge and 8 p.m. Friday at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa