Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart Reveals Why His Christmas List Is Already Complete

Photo Credit: Boston Symphony Orchestra

It’s the most wonderful time of the year here in Boston when the Holiday Pops are in full swing (performing live at Symphony Hall until the end of the year).

Next year will be extremely special for Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart as he prepares to celebrate his 25th anniversary as conductor, the second longest tenured conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since its founding in 1885. Since then, he has significantly expanded the Pops programming, collaborated with more than 250 guest pop culture icons and focused on national annual touring. From the Christmas tree lighting in Boston’s Public Garden each year and the annual July 4 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular to Super Bowl performances and ring ceremonies for the Boston Red Sox, the Pops hold a special place in every Bostonian’s heart.

We caught up recently with Lockhart to chat about his upcoming 25th anniversary with the Boston Pops, expanding the Pops programming and why his Christmas list is already complete.

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson

Next year marks your 25th anniversary with the Boston Pops. How does that feel?

It feels kind of unbelievable, I suppose. I don’t know where the time went. I can do the math, but it doesn’t feel like 25 years. It still feels great though. I still have something to give and the job gives me an immense amount of satisfaction.

And to be able to perform in one of the top concert halls in the world and oldest orchestras in the country?

My illustrious predecessor, John Williams, gave me wise words back in 1995. He said don’t worry about making too much your own; the organization was beloved before you were here and will be long after you are gone. To be able to do what I do here is incredible.

Did you have a pivotal moment when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I am still not sure I want to, but my prospects are narrowing [laughs]. I was a musician since the age seven on. My family was all engineers and mathematicians. I realized when I got to college that conducting was what I wanted to do and that was 40 years ago.

How about your most proud moment as conductor?

Probably when I got appointed conductor. For my first 4th of July concert, I was not so proud as I was panicked. There were about 600,000 people in the crowd. One of my most memorable moments is first walking onstage. It was just so amazing to see how much the orchestra meant to so many people.

Photo Credit: Boston Symphony Orchestra

What would you say has been your most memorable performance?

That’s impossible to say. I have had 2,000 performances just with the Boston Pops and 2,000 more with some other organizations. One that stands out though would be the Super Bowl Pregame in 2002. A memorable performance can be small events where an orchestra came together. Last month, I went to the Czech Philharmonic in Prague on the day of my 60th birthday.

Can you tell us about this season’s Holiday Pops?

This season, the concert features 38 performances with an additional seven or eight in other New England ports of call. It’s all centered around “The Polar Express,” so it’s a multimedia thing with music from the movie. It tells a story that is timeless about nature and the power of belief. You get to look through the lens to recapture the clarity and optimism that we tend to lose.

Why did you decide to recently host the first sensory-friendly concert of the Holiday Pops?

The Boston Pops, in particular, are obviously not the first ones to do this, but this was the first time offering a sensory-friendly Holiday Pops concert.  In the case of the Pops, we are an arm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra whose mission is that music is for everybody. We did our first concert in June and we were all genuinely moved by what went on. We did our first holiday sensory-friendly concert on December 7. I spoke with some of the fans after with tears in their eyes because they were so happy. Kids were able to enjoy the performance in different ways. Some were up and dancing; some shouted their approval, but the parents were the ones who were overcome with emotion because their kids were in a place where they weren’t being judged. We made some modifications to the space, reduced the lighting and the intensities, and adjusted the space so people weren’t too crowded. The biggest takeaway for people was that it is an accepting space. How their child chooses to respond to the music is all right. After doing this, my Christmas list is complete.

Photo Credit: Stu Rosner

Was it intimidating to join the Pops following in the footsteps of your predecessors Arthur Fiedler and John Williams?

It was. My joke has always been that my first five years felt like I was a teen borrowing my dad’s car. I am still in awe of the tradition and what it means, but after all these years, now it feels like I am driving the car.

How would you say you have changed the Pops since you first became conductor?

The mission has always been clear. It’s an outreach orchestra that plays a wide repertoire. What changes is how the mission gets realized with different music. I feel we have pushed the bounds more than ever before with rock bands, but have tried to always keep the core intact, and that gives us room to experience.

Do you have a favorite song to perform live?

Definitely not, because if I had a favorite, that would make all the others my less favorite. The fun thing about the Pops is we can go from Beethoven one day to Queen the next. I think that allows me to stay loose, but the intellectual rigor allows us to do better while keeping things fresh.

What can we expect for 2020?

We will bring back some people who were with me the first week back in May 1995. We will also have some collaborations with indie rock bands like Guster. I’m really happy about the last 25 years and what we have achieved.

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson