“The Boston Pops Orchestra performs the best music of the past and present, appealing to the widest possible audience with a broad spectrum of styles, from jazz to pop, indie rock to big band, film music to the great American songbook, and Broadway to classical, making it the perfect orchestra for people who don’t know they like orchestras!”
In spring 2019 the Boston Pops, affectionately called “America’s Orchestra,” enters its 134th season of entertaining audiences in Boston and beyond, and Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart begins his 25th year at the helm of the orchestra. One of the recurring themes this season is the “Summer of ’69,” a time of unprecedented scientific exploration, social upheaval, and musical excitement that, 50 years later, resonates still.
When Civil War veteran Henry Lee Higginson founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881, he called its establishment “the dream of my life.” From the start he intended to present, in the warmer months, concerts of light classics and the popular music of the day. From a practical perspective,
Higginson realized that these “lighter” performances, to be called “Promenade Concerts,” would provide year-round employment for his musicians, and in 1885 he was able to fulfill his vision. In May of that year, a little more than a month before the inaugural “Promenade Concert,” German-born conductor Adolf Neuendorff, under the aegis of the BSO, conducted a series of “Popular Concerts” in the Boston Music Hall, where the audience sat in typical concert seating and no refreshments were served. On July 11, 1885, Neuendorff—who became the first conductor of the Pops, before that name was officially adopted—led the first official “Promenade Concert,” distinguished from “Popular Concerts” by virtue of seating (tables and chairs instead of auditorium-style rows), program format (three parts divided by two intermissions, during which patrons could promenade around the concert hall), and the availability of food and beverages. For the rest of the 19th century, although formally called “Promenade Concerts,” they continued to be referred to informally as “Popular,” which eventually became shortened to “Pops,” the name officially adopted in 1900. The following year the orchestra performed for the first time in its new home, Symphony Hall. Not only is this performance space acoustically outstanding, it was also designed, at Higginson’s insistence, so that the rows of floor seats for Boston Symphony concerts could be replaced by tables and chairs for Pops concerts. To this day, patrons sitting at the cabaret-style tables can enjoy food and drink, along with the kind of musical entertainment only the Boston Pops can provide.
There were seventeen Pops conductors, beginning with the aforementioned Adolf Neuendorff, who preceded Arthur Fiedler, the first American-born musician to lead the orchestra. In his nearly 50-year tenure as Pops Conductor (1930-1979), Arthur Fiedler established the Boston Pops as a national icon. He moved the Pops beyond its origins in light classical music into the world of pop culture, showcasing the popular artists of the day as well as the work of young American composers and arrangers. Mr. Fiedler organized the first free outdoor orchestral concerts on the Charles River Esplanade that led to Boston’s now-famous Fourth of July concert, established the Pops as the most recorded orchestra in history— including the best-seller “Jalousie”—and introduced the Evening at Pops television series, bringing the orchestra into the living rooms of countless Americans.
When John Williams (1980-1993) succeeded Arthur Fiedler, he was the most highly acclaimed composer in Hollywood, and today, with 51 Academy Award nominations, he is the most-nominated living person in Academy history. With the Pops, Mr. Williams continued the orchestra’s prolific recording tradition with a series of best-selling albums for the Philips and Sony Classical labels, broadened and updated the Pops repertoire—commissioning new compositions and introducing new arrangements of Boston Pops classics— and entertained audiences with live orchestral accompaniment to film clips of memorable movie scenes, many of which featured iconic music from his own film scores. He traveled extensively with the Pops both nationally and internationally, leading the Pops on its first tours to Japan. Mr. Williams also brought a bit of Hollywood to the Pops stage, with special appearances by Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Frank Langella, not to mention Darth Vader, R2D2, and C3PO.
Having led more than 2,000 Boston Pops concerts in the past 24 years, Keith Lockhart (1995-present) has created programs that reach out to a broader and younger audience by presenting artists—both established performers and rising stars—from virtually every corner of the entertainment world, all the while maintaining the Pops’ appeal to its core audience. He has made 80 television shows, led 45 national and four overseas tours with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, led the Pops at several high-profile sports events, and recorded 14 albums. Mr. Lockhart’s tenure has been marked by a dramatic increase in touring, the orchestra’s first Grammy nominations, the first major network national broadcast of the Fourth of July spectacular from the Esplanade, and the release of the Boston Pops’ first self-produced and self-distributed recordings. In 2017 the Pops opened a new page in its history, as the Pops organization presented its first self-produced Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This year the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular will mark its 46th year as one of the nation’s proudest holiday traditions. Eaton Vance, a leading global asset manager based in Boston, is the presenting sponsor of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular and Bloomberg, the global business and financial information and news leader, is a major sponsor and media partner; both companies made initial three-year commitments to the event.
Pops Fun in the Summertime
esplanade—“a level open stretch of paved or grassy ground, especially one designed for walking or driving along a shore.”
Nearly ninety years ago, before Arthur Fiedler became Conductor of the Boston Pops, he was struck with an idea that was to transform the orchestra’s relationship to the City of Boston. He believed that if great literature was available for free in public libraries, and masterpieces of art could be viewed for a modest fee in museums, then great symphonic music should be accessible to the masses on a similar basis.
Fiedler, who was at the time a violist in the Boston Symphony, as well as a conductor of his own ensemble, set about raising funds to bring his idea to fruition. After two years, on July 4, 1929, the first free Esplanade Concert was performed at the specially constructed acoustic shell along the banks of the Charles River. The orchestra was composed of roughly half the musicians of the Boston Symphony. That first season of free concerts, which attracted more than 208,000 people, was such a resounding confirmation of Fiedler’s vision that the Boston Symphony management was swayed to sign Fiedler to a three-year conducting contract, which was only the beginning of five decades of leading the Pops, until his death in 1979.
In 1974, businessman David Mugar collaborated with longtime friend Fiedler to revitalize the July Fourth tradition, adding fireworks and cannons to the grand finale. The innovations were successful and led to what was likely the high point of Fiedler’s career: the July Fourth concert in 1976. The special bicentennial event attracted more than 400,000 people and made the “Guinness Book of World Records” for the largest audience in the history of orchestral concerts (a record since broken with the 1998 attendance of 500,000+ and many others exceeding that figure). David Mugar, who served as event founder and executive producer until 2016, personally funded the event until 2000 and created Boston 4 Celebrations Foundation (B4), which served as the production arm of the live event and television broadcast. B4 was responsible for securing sponsorship deals, as well as a 10-year deal with CBS bringing the event to millions as a primetime network special. The baton was passed in 2016, when Mugar retired and the Boston Pops took over leadership and management of the event and television broadcast.
In 2017 the Pops opened a new page in its history, as the Pops organization presented its first self-produced Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular. This year the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular will mark its 46th year as one of the nation’s proudest holiday traditions. Eaton Vance, a leading global asset manager based in Boston, is the presenting sponsor of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular and Bloomberg, the global business and financial information and news leader, is a major sponsor and media partner; both companies made initial three-year commitments to the event.