Keith Lockhart Can’t Wait For This Season’s Boston Symphony Orchestra Lineup

Friday night will kick off the 2017-2018 Boston Symphony Orchestra season, which is also the centennial of the birth of American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, in haute style with a gala concert featuring Music Director Andris Nelsons devoted to Bernstein’s music. Much of his career as composer and conductor was shaped by his early connection to the BSO. The Symphony Gala will feature legendary mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stadeserves along with BSO principal flutist Elizabeth Rowe and soprano Julia Bullock. (The Opening Night concert will be followed by an exclusive gala dinner for Symphony Gala benefactors along with desserts and cordials on stage).

Also coming up on Sunday, October 1, at 3 p.m., the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops, in partnership with the City of Boston, will present a special free concert in Franklin Park. Led by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart, and BSO Youth and Family Concerts Condutor Thomas Wilkins, the outdoor concert makes history as it will be the first time the BSO and the Boston Pops have performed on the same stage in a free outdoor public venue. You also won’t want to miss this year’s Holiday Pops, which gets underway December 5 and runs through the end of the month.

Keith LockhartPhoto Credit: Marco Borggreve

We caught up recently with Keith Lockhart, the second longest-tenured conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, to find out what it takes to keep things new, who he would like to invite to Symphony Hall and the secret to the Symphony’s success.

What performances are you most looking forward to most this year?

It’s tempting to say “all of them,” but coming up soon is a great example of the Pops’ engagement with our community.  On October 1st, the Boston Pops and Boston Symphony will present a free concert for the people of Boston at beautiful Franklin Park.  Andris Nelsons, Thomas Wilkins (our education concert conductor), and I will share the conducting duties.  After that, I always look forward to our Holiday Pops concerts (this year from December 2nd through the 24th, at Symphony Hall and various New England locations).  This series has become a beloved Christmas tradition for thousands of New Englanders, and is my own personal chance to play Santa Claus!

Why do you think the Boston Pops have remained a timeless favorite of audiences worldwide for so many decades?

Because the Pops has accomplished the difficult balancing act of cherishing our traditions while remaining resolutely in our time and place.  Thus, we somehow manage to simultaneously remain both a great tradition in this country and a great innovator.  And there’s our range…no orchestra can play the variety of music we play with as much virtuosity and authenticity as the Boston Pops!

Keith LockhartPhoto Credit: Winslow Townson

What would you say has been the most memorable experience of your career with the Pops?

Impossible to say!  Maybe my first Fourth of July, on national television with 500.000 people in the live crowd?  I’ve done 22 more since that one, and it still doesn’t get old.  Or the performance pre-game at Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, when we got to both perform for so many post-9/11 Americans who really needed us and celebrate the underdog NE Patriots first Super Bowl win.  I’ve done close to 2,000 performances with the Boston Pops, though.  Take your pick!

What do you think it is about the Boston Pops that sets you apart from other orchestras?

Arthur Fiedler said it best…”We only play one kind of music at the Boston Pops: the interesting kind!”  We play more kinds of music, and collaborate with more kinds of performers, than any orchestra, ever.  And we do so (I like to think), with style, authenticity, and a sense of the joy of music.

Are there certain challenges you face as conductor to keep things fresh and relevant?

We’re always listening to who’s out there, what the next trend is, and thinking “is there anything here we can add to?”  We don’t just jump on every bandwagon…there are musical trends that aren’t worth our effort at translation, and very worthy ones that we just don’t have anything to add to.  Figuring out what will last, what will have staying power, and what our audiences will respond well to is a full-time job.

What are your thoughts on the growing popularity of the film in concert phenomenon?

I’m happy about it, because it allows our audiences to focus on the genius of great movie soundtracks, which are often so buried beneath all the elements of a film that they are hard to appreciate.  I learned so much about what made scores like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws,” and even “The Wizard of Oz” and “Singing in the Rain” great when I actually got to hear them lifted from the soundtrack, and it’s great to be able to share them.  I always think we need to be careful about doing too much of a good thing, though…music remains great because it doesn’t need visual stimulation to have a great effect on its audience.

You have had everyone from Big & Rich to Queen Latifah grace the stage at Symphony Hall.  Anyone you would like to see there in the coming years?

(If you’re listening…) Paul Simon.  Bruce Springsteen (4th of July, don’t you think?), Bruno Mars, Mumford and Sons.  Adele! (now…that would be amazing)