Ben Folds has always had an eclectic taste in music, which is why he spent a good part of his youth rocking out to everything from classic R&B tunes to the works of the Boston Pops. The 50-year-old musician will once again bring his distinct style to the famed orchestra for a pair of shows on May 17 and 18. Ahead, Folds opens up about his love for the Pops, his new job with the National Symphony Orchestra and how fans can help save the future of the arts.
Since this is your third go-round with the Pops, you must have a special place in your heart for the orchestra.
When I was a kid, I had all these 78 rpm records that I got at a yard sale. There were all these Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops records. I loved those as a kid. So it means a lot to me. What can be said? They’re the real thing and it’s always an honor.
What was it about those records that spoke to you?
I would listen to whatever I could get my hands on as a kid. I would play Little Richard and be like, “This is the best s—t I’ve ever heard.” A couple minutes later I put on Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and was like, “This is awesome!” It was just fun. I think making the symphony orchestra fun while retaining the dignity of the institution was just a great idea.
You’re bringing your “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” to Boston for the first time. Any other big plans in store for this trip?
[The concerto] earned me my first and only No. 1 record of any description. We had the No. 1 classical record with that for months. As a result, I’ve gotten to play this all over the place. Oddly enough, Boston, which was one of the first places that I played with an orchestra, I still haven’t done that yet. So I’m really excited to play it there. And we’re bringing some new charts too. I don’t like to keep repeating myself.
The National Symphony Orchestra just named you as its first ever artistic advisor. Are you excited for the new gig?
Every time I’ve done anything at the Kennedy Center, I’ve probably been so enthusiastic that I put my all into it. They brought me on board, that way I can curate dream concerts and come up with programs and music. It’s amazing. It’s like the best facility to come home to and try new things and bring my rowdy friends into it.
Do you have any advice for how fans can help protect the fine arts from the backlash it’s getting in the political sphere?
We have so many things to support right now. There’s so many things to protect in this environment, but if you only put one quote of mine in the entire piece on me, I would say call your representatives about the National Endowment for the Arts if you at all are concerned. You have about a week. Even though the budget’s going to drag on a lot longer, that’s probably how much time they’ll have where lobbying can still make a difference. So I say f—ing do it!
If you go:
May 17-18, 8 p.m., Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., $26 – $84. bso.org