For over a century, the Boston Pops have enchanted music lovers of all ages with their ability to combine orchestral classics with modern tastes. Thanks to upcoming performances by a “Hamilton” favorite and other superstars like Queen Latifah and Ben Folds, this season is shaping up to be another great year for the group. Ahead of Wednesday’s Opening Night, conductor Keith Lockhart explains why he’s excited to take the podium again this spring.
The Pops’ 2017 season is pretty stacked. What are you excited about the most this year?
I’m really happy with this season. I think it has a really good mix and interesting, first time things, like the world premiere of “Jaws” in concert live with orchestra, which nobody has done before. The world premiere of the orchestral version of “Sondheim on Sondheim,” which was our genesis, which we got [Stephen] Sondheim and [James] Lapine to agree to do. The overall focus on the music of John Williams, which is always an easy thing to focus on because there’s so much of it and it’s so good. That will be manifested in John being here for a couple of performances, but also in my doing some full-length, John Williams evenings during the year.
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From Leslie Odom Jr. to the B-52s, there are a lot of superstars coming to town too.
Leslie Odom Jr., that’s a big thing for me because I think his work has been amazing. Queen Latifah we’ve worked on for four or five years to get her to join us, and it finally worked. And Ben Folds is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, so having him back is great. The B-52s will rock the house and make a major 80s statement. So what’s not to love?
Have anything special in store for Queen Latifah’s opening night appearance?
She doesn’t do a lot of orchestral dates like this, but she’s a beautiful jazz pop singer, and because people know her from different things, TV and all that, they don’t necessarily know that she does that, except maybe if they’ve seen her in “Chicago,” the movie. She’s an amazing talent and I’m looking forward to seeing what we do with her.
What’s it like collaborating with such a master of the craft like John Williams?
I met John for the first time the night before the press conference that announced me as his successor. He remains the model of a gentleman and a gracious, supportive colleague. He doesn’t wear his fame. He’s a very modest, quiet kind of a guy that has always been around with advice. I feel privileged. John never met his predecessor at the Pops, [Arthur] Fielder was dead before John came here. It’s been great to have the eminence grise position there. I’m glad he’s coming to both the premiere of “Jaws” and I’m sharing the podium for two nights the next week for Film Night.
Considering the current political attitudes towards the fine arts, do you feel like this season is more important than ever?
I think the position of the Boston Pops has always been important, and perhaps more important now than ever in my time here. We are, I think, one of the great outreach tools of the entire orchestral world and the entire kind of live performance industry. The Pops' message for 130 years has been music and these opportunities belong to everyone. Don’t get me started on the attempts by the administration and Congress to slash the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those are total, red herring, false things, but what they are pretending is that these are perks for the entitled, when in reality the only things those rather miniscule budget numbers support is outreach to make sure that this music is for everybody. The only things that will close up for the NEA going away are arts initiatives that take place in the most remote and poorest sections of this country. At the end of the day, the amount of money spent by the U.S. government on arts support is less than a postage stamp per tax paying American.
If you go:
Symphony Hall, 301 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. bso.org.