Q&A with Keith Lockhart: 2021 Boston Pops online season kicks off Mother’s Day
BOSTON – The 2021 Boston Pops online season opens on Mother’s Day with a program featuring music by and about women. Available from May 6, the program “Boston Pops Celebrates Mother’s Day: Honoring Women” includes pieces by Joan Tower, Lerner and Loewe, Maurice Ravel, Rachel Bruerville, William Grant Still, and pop artists Carole King and ABBA. Still’s piece, inspired by the sculpture by Sargent Johnson “Mother and child», Depicts the love and care that mothers give.
The concert will also include a special performance of the first movement of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Tanya Gabrielian, and the last movement of JS Bach’s “Double Concerto”, performed by Boston Pops violinist Ala Jojatu and her daughter, violinist Maria Jojatu. .
The Edge interviewed the Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart last June, when there was no end in sight to this interminable pandemic work. He was feeling a bit gloomy that day, but he spoke of the orchestra’s struggles in terms that were about as optimistic as one would expect a conductor to be when all its players are cruelly detained in the manner of exiled gods.
Our conversation with Keith this week has been a much happier affair than the one we had in June. Admittedly, the six Pops spring concerts are again presented virtually. But with in-person performances at Tanglewood just a few short weeks away, morale is higher than it has been for a very long time within the BSO organization.
Keith, would you have believed a year ago that your spring 2021 concerts would still be done virtually?
The six programs we’re running virtually will replace what would normally be our 2021 spring season. And if you told me a year ago that we wouldn’t be back in person by then, I don’t think I would. you would have believed. But we have all learned a lot in the past year.
Your May 6 program celebrates Mother’s Day. Is this an annual tradition for the Pops?
Our spring season usually begins around the second week of May, which tends to coincide with Mother’s Day. So, it’s always been kind of a Sunday afternoon tradition to do a Boston Pops concert and then get people to find some cool things to give their mothers for Mother’s Day. We decided that would be a good way to kick off this season as well, and I hope a lot of people… If they don’t know what to get their moms, here’s the answer.
What is your mother’s favorite song?
Hoo! Boy! You know, she’s one of those mothers who say, “That’s sweet, honey!” pretty much everything. So it’s hard to know which one is his favorite – which is frustrating at times. She really likes “Sound of Music” so I would say something like “Doe, a Deer” or “Climb Every Mountain” – something like that.
Do you have your love of your mother’s Broadway music?
No, to tell you the truth, my love of Broadway music comes from two sources, actually. One of them is my mother’s father, my maternal grandfather. My mother grew up, for at least part of her childhood, in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and my grandfather used to sneak up and go to Broadway shows. I don’t think anyone in the family liked them too much.
The other source of my love on Broadway was my dad who played the record player very well and then had a lot of casting albums from various great shows from the 50’s and 60’s and put some of it on me very early on. . age.
So your dad is the smoking gun?
He’s the smoking gun. It is his fault, may he rest in peace.
Of the four programs newly recorded in Pops’ Spring 2021 program, which one are you most proud of?
The common answer is that it’s like your children: you are proud of them too. But I am very proud of the innovation in the fourth of the new programs recorded – the one on the roots of jazz. The Pops is no stranger to these kinds of American idioms, but we tried to come up with a new story to tell, a story about the different strains that came together on American soil and produced what is arguably the first and only original American music.
As you know, arts organizations think a lot these days about voices that have been overlooked or rejected because of their race. Because, of course, many of these voices came from various black musical traditions which combined with European musical traditions to create something that no one had ever heard before.
So in this program, we start from New Orleans street music and go through Joplin (the opening of his opera “Treemonisha”), a little piece of “Maple Leaf Rag”, which I’m going to sit down. on the piano and try to dazzle people with it, and the music of James P. Johnson, the man who wrote “The Charleston,” who was really just an incredible and seminal force in the development of jazz in teens and the world. around twenty. But here’s someone that no one has heard of other than the fact that he wrote “The Charleston”.
And also the music of Gershwin through Paul Whiteman, and the music of Benny Goodman. And Dave Brubeck – sort of a belated homage to Brubeck’s centenary, which happened at the end of 2020, when all of our plans were turned upside down. That’s a pretty good list of what’s on this program.
When the Pops performed “Sophisticated Lady” at the Valentine’s Day concert last February, the quality of the string writing was visibly excellent, as the bluesy string lines are almost impossible to grade correctly, let alone interpret them. The effect was astounding.
I love you saying that! Let me tell you a little story. And not to denigrate the dead, but for many, many years after Leroy Anderson left alone, Richard Hayman did 90% of the arrangement for Arthur Fiedler, roughly from the mid-1950s until mid 50’s. 60’s and two-thirds of 70’s… One of our librarians once said that if we put them together and played them end to end, we would have over 24 hours of Richard Hayman arrangements. And a lot of them, honestly – especially when they’re doing something so fancy and not in a classic voice like Duke Ellington – they’re a little dated, a little Muzaky. And so a lot of them were retired. But when we were looking – it was probably 99, when Ellington’s centenary was – we started plowing, because we had a lot of it, because Fiedler recorded with Duke Ellington. They did an album together recorded live at Tanglewood in ’57 or something like that.
And this arrangement! I was like, “Holy Cow! Is that Richard Hayman? This writing is amazing! The song must have really inspired him, and he really dug deep. And you are right: this arrangement stands the test of time. And I’ll tell you the other secret about it: it’s really, really hard! [laughs] You really had to work on it.
How often do you play the keyboard with the Boston Pops?
I have done this over the years a few times. Frankly, most of them were a long time ago when I was young and stupid – or brave – it’s a fine line between those two things. I play less and less every year, but from March or April of last year, when we were completely closed, I started playing a little more, and I did several things in the framework of the BSO, a kind of virtual. , home series. I did a few other things, worked on Debussy.
And because conductors during a pandemic are the most useless animals there is, because… you know, it’s hard enough being a performing artist of any kind. But when you’re a performing artist who depends on bringing a lot of other people together [laughs], then you are in trouble.
But when you sit down and play “Maple Leaf Rag” you are definitely not useless at this point.
Well, you know, that’s the great thing. It’s good to go back to your midrange and create some sound yourself when you can’t create sound with others.
We’re looking for all the little silver liners that we can find around this time, and I think one of the things that’s been really good is that the virtual performances give the audience a chance to see us in different lights – things that ‘they usually don’t. see us doing live concert experiences in the normal parade.
Not to mention being able to see the faces of some players for the first time.
You are right – and the players as individuals. This is something that I have said a lot, that, just for the sake of convenience, the only face that tends to be associated with an orchestra is that of the conductor. Like when my face is associated with Boston Pops. But there are 80 people in there, and a lot of them have really interesting stories and really interesting independent lives. Virtual performances give people a chance to dive deep into the people they’ve supported, kind of like a generic whole, for years.