Keith Lockhart celebrates 20 years at the helm of the Boston Pops.
Twenty years ago, when Keith Lockhart took over the baton from legendary conductor John Williams at the ripe age of thirty-five, the musical world was abuzz about this young, new talent who would be leading one of the most storied orchestras in the country — the Boston Pops. Over the next two decades, Lockhart has triumphantly conducted over 1,700 performances, eighteen of which took place right here on the island. On August 8th, Lockhart will continue celebrating his 20th anniversary when he returns to Jetties Beach for the Boston Pops on Nantucket concert, which benefits the Nantucket Cottage Hospital. Before taking the stage, the conductor caught up with N Magazine to discuss his career, his plans for the future, and his love for performing on the island.
N MAGAZINE: You have performed on some of the grandest stages in the world. What makes performing on the shores of Nantucket unique from all the rest?
KEITH LOCKHART: In two words — the view! The Pops concert on Nantucket has become a great tradition that really unites the whole island. We’re thrilled to be a part of it, and thrilled to be doing great things for Nantucket Cottage Hospital. What stays in my mind, though, is the incredible beauty of the setting. It’s great music in a sublime place.
N MAGAZINE: Do performances that benefit causes like the Nantucket Cottage Hospital hold greater significance for you?
KEITH LOCKHART: We always love being part of something greater, not just performing a concert, but helping make other worthy causes possible.
N MAGAZINE: Looking back on your twenty years conducting the Pops, are there any funny or memorable moments that stick out in your mind?
KEITH LOCKHART: After 1,700 concerts, give or take, it’s hard to pick out your favorite moments. We’ve had the lights go out. We’ve had the whole audience evacuated. We’ve had soloists cancel on less than twenty-four hours notice. We’ve had people jump on the stage and try to join the party. Nantucket has always been a great experience. I remember pretty fondly doing Hawaiian Night a few years ago, with the orchestra performing between two undulating, giant inflatable hula dancers. It doesn’t get much better than that.
N MAGAZINE: What do you think most concertgoers do not appreciate about what goes into a performance like the one you’re leading on Nantucket this August?
KEITH LOCKHART: The setup for this concert is really a tremendous undertaking. The stage structure, as well as the sound system, electrics and pyro that have to be brought in from off-island for the event require a lot of personnel and expertise. And getting about a hundred Boston Pops musicians and staff over to the island for the day is no easy task, either.
N MAGAZINE: Do you have any surprises in store for the performance this summer? Anything new and exciting coming to your Nantucket repertoire? “All About That Bass,” perhaps?
KEITH LOCKHART: If I told you about them, they wouldn’t be surprises, would they? Sadly, one of them is not “All About That Bass.” We have a great version at the Pops, but can’t do it in this particular concert for a host of logistical reasons.
N MAGAZINE: Do you spend any time on the island beyond when you’re here conducting?
KEITH LOCKHART: I have spent time on the island in the past. We have friends there, whom we enjoy boating, beachcombing, and hanging out with. We have our own place on the Cape where we spend a lot of time these days. A little easier to get to with little ones in tow!
N MAGAZINE: What’s one thing most people do not know about you?
KEITH LOCKHART: At seventeen, I was a member of the starting lineup of the New York State championship High School Quiz Bowl team, sort of like GE College Bowl, or group Jeopardy. How’s that for a nerdy fun fact?
N MAGAZINE: What type of music do you listen to outside of work?
KEITH LOCKHART: I listen to very little music for recreation. I even prefer restaurants that don’t have background music. When all you do for a living is listen to music, silence is golden. But, yes, it is important to never isolate your musical choices.
N MAGAZINE: Since taking the helm of the Boston Pops twenty years ago, how have you succeeded in maintaining a high-level of youthful energy with each performance?
KEITH LOCKHART: Performers live and thrive off the energy of the audience. No matter how many concerts you’ve done over the years — and I’ve done a lot of them — or how many times you’ve done a particular piece, it’s always exciting to bring great music to a receptive audience.
N MAGAZINE: You’ve collaborated with such musical legends as Elton John, Steven Tyler, and Elvis Costello. Is there any musician that you were particularly thrilled to be working with, or anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
KEITH LOCKHART: Lots of great performances with great musicians and legendary performers. The ones you mention are pretty special. So were Sting, Celine Dion, Cindi Lauper. Still to come…Bruce Springsteen for the 4th of July. Bruce, if you’re reading this, give us a call.
N MAGAZINE: What’s left on your list of goals?
KEITH LOCKHART: The great thing about my job is that the challenge is ongoing. There are always new audiences to connect with, new music to learn. You never “get there.” The great sculptor Henry Moore once said the secret to life is to have a great task, and you must never be able to accomplish it!
N MAGAZINE: You’ve now long since surpassed your predecessor John Williams’s tenure with the Boston Pops. Would you like to lead the Pops for as long as Williams’s predecessor, Arthur Fiedler?
KEITH LOCKHART: As much as I love the Pops and our audiences, I can’t think of anything I’d like to do for half a century. But check back in with me in ten years….