Music, Audiences And Leprechauns
The 2016 Boston Pops season runs from May 6 - June 18, with another rich offering of brilliant musicians and some of the most popular music on the planet. We spoke with conductor Keith Lockhart about the upcoming season at Boston Symphony Hall and about St. Patrick’s Day.
You open this Boston Pops season with TV personality and comedian Seth MacFarlane. In addition to being funny, he is also a pretty good interpreter of the American Song book. How did that booking come about?
Strangely enough, the initial contact was from Seth himself! Several years ago, everyone knew who Seth MacFarlane was because of Family Guy, but he hadn’t started appearing with orchestras as a singer. He got in touch, out of the blue, and said, “Hey, Keith, would love to figure out something to do together.” I’m so happy we finally made the dates work...he’s a busy guy! As you know, he’s a New Englander, and he loves the Pops (he makes Pops jokes on Family Guy, so you know it has to be love!)
Tell us about the “Pops on Demand” concept, which is a relatively new initiative for the band.
Last year, my staff and I were tossing around ideas about how to heighten the participatory experience for our audiences at the Pops. I’m the low-tech guy, so I asked “Is there any way we can poll the audience live during our concert, and have THEM decide what we’re going to play next? They told me there was, and “Pops on Demand” was born. On selected concerts during the season, we will present musical categories to the audience in Symphony Hall, and ask them to choose from three possibilities (for example...Favorite Movie Love Theme). The audience votes from their mobile devices, and the results are shown in real time on a screen above the orchestra. You wouldn’t believe how much fun this was when we tried it last year...so much engagement and excitement from everyone there. I think we’re really on to something!
You’ve got another great season of iconic sounds, from Classic Rock and the Beach Boys, to Carol King and Film scores, to Broadway hits and Gershwin classics. How do you match up audience tastes when you put together a music schedule?
There are some shows that we can always count on being popular (Film Night, for instance), some that only appeal to a particular segment of our audience (like our Grateful Dead shows a couple years ago), and we are constantly trying new ideas to see which ones resonate with our audience...both the audience we already have and new audiences we’d like to bring into Symphony Hall. The best answer I can give you is that we try to keep our offerings as varied and interesting as possible...we’re sure that anyone living will love at least one of the shows we’re presenting!
In the past, you’ve talked to us about your Scottish family roots. What does Clan Lockhart do to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, one of America’s most Celtic cities?
St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t a big deal in my family when I was growing up, but my wife Emiley is half Irish (really half Irish!) so it’s a big deal in our house now! Besides the traditional corned beef, cabbage, and Guinness, we believe firmly in leprechauns. My children believe in them because, on St. Patrick’s Day morning, the milk (and the toilet bowl water) have both turned a lovely shade of Irish green. And how else would you explain that?
See additional BITA profiles on Keith: