(This interview with Keith Lockhart appears in the winter issue of Travel & Culture Guide, available for free at visitor centers and cultural venues throughout Massachusetts)
Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart has led the world-famous Boston Pops Orchestra since 1995, the 20th conductor to hold this hallowed position. The season, the Holiday Pops series includes 46 shows, running from December 4-24, which includes seven matinees for children and also a special appearance by Broadway star Kristen Chenoweth on December 12.
We caught up with the maestro in Phoenix, AZ, as he and the orchestra were starting a seven-city, three-state Southwest Tour that includes concerts in Tuscon, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Palm Desert, San Diego, Northridge and Costa Mesa.
What do audiences outside Boston love most about the show?
Touring with the Boston Pops is unlike touring with other orchestra groups: we have a nationwide constituency of people who bought every recording dating back to the Arthur Fiedler era. Plus we have a television presence, through the Fourth of July concert, so when we come to these places it’s like a hometown crowd. I think people everywhere respond to our unique mix of music and musical tastes.
So many Boston expats come out to the show, especially in Florida; every second person has a story to tell about being from Boston. Plus we have people who say ‘I’ve never been to Boston but it’s on my bucket list.’
You have a brand new album out, A Boston Pops Christmas - Live from Symphony Hall. Tell us about that.
It’s our first all-live Holiday recording, taken from concerts we did in 2011 and 2012. We set ourselves the goal of capturing the incredible spirit of the live concert experience of the Holiday Pops tradition that takes place every December at Symphony Hall. The sequence on the album mirrors the concert format, going from serious to fun.
Speaking of fun, would you say Sleigh Ride by Leroy Anderson is the Pops’ signature holiday song?
Well, Sleigh Ride is definitely a signature song, but I think our version of Twelve Days of Christmas is also in the running. It’s impossible for us to get through a holiday concert without playing both songs, so it’s a nice problem to have.
Boston has had an intense year, with the marathon bombing, the Red Sox championship and with a new mayor coming in. Do you ever reflect on the important role the Boston Pops plays in the life of this city?
We are so involved in the fabric of the city. We’re like the Red Sox, an intractable Boston landmark institution, and we try to reflect that. It was on our minds this spring and summer on the tail end of the marathon bombing. We think of the needs of people and the solace that music can provide on those occasions.
And that’s true in celebratory moments too, such as World Series and Super Bowl games. It’s amazing and singular for a classical recording artist to be part of Boston’s fabric. It’s an honor.