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After Silent 2020, Boston Pops’ Lockhart Says He Has Reached New Peak Heading Into Tanglewood Film Night

Two white men in tuxes, one older and one younger, stand backstage posing for the camera.
Michael Blanchard
Boston Symphony Orchestra
John Williams and Keith Lockhart.

Keith Lockhart is the Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. Friday night, he’ll appear with legendary composer John Williams for a beloved Tanglewood tradition: the performance of famous film scores at the venerable Lenox, Massachusetts concert venue. WAMC talked with Lockhart before the sold-out concert about returning to the stage after Tanglewood was shuttered in 2020, and what’s on the docket for Film Night 2021.

LOCKHART: This is my third time at Tanglewood this summer. And with the Pops, we actually did the first public performance of Tanglewood back on the Fourth of July. It has been a compressed season. But I'd say that the first takeaway for myself and my colleagues is, number one, how wonderful it is to do what we do best and make music for live audiences again. And the other is just the incredible responses of the audiences that have been here. I was kind of worried about what this year and a half long break in our relationship would mean, but it really seems that people are very, very hungry to receive the kind of thing that we have to offer.

WAMC: Now among the orchestra itself, what was morale like last summer in the worst of all of this when there was no music at all? And how has that changed over the course of this return to live performances at Tanglewood?

Well, I think everybody, last summer for us, as performing artists, last summer was pretty much the low point because we had no idea when we were coming back and how we were coming back. And we weren't even doing the virtual content that we did starting in late October and through the spring. And, you know, I can speak for myself saying, it's probably the lowest point of my life. You know, I went back to my roots and was playing piano and that sort of thing, but conductors in particular, even worse than other instrumentalists, because without other instrumentalists, we don't make any noise.

Friday night, you'll be conducting a sold out performance of Film Night at Tanglewood with the great John Williams. What can we expect this summer from a beloved institution of the Tanglewood calendar?

Film Night is a great tradition at Tanglewood. And, for many years, Film Night has meant an anticipated appearance by our wonderful conductor laureate at the Boston Pops and artist in residence at Tanglewood, John Williams. This year's film night will be no exception. John will be there, but I will be sharing the podium with him. We're doing a single, no intermission full concert, 90 minutes. And I have to say if I were five months short of 90, I wouldn't want to do the whole thing in this heat either. So it's my honor to be the opening act for John. And the concert contains video footage from some great, beloved movies both by John and some other great classics with wonderful scores like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Casablanca,’ the wonderful musical ‘An American in Paris,’ etc. And so as I said, I will start the concert off as soon as it gets dark with some wonderful film with wonderful music to go with it and the wonderful Boston Pops playing underneath, and John will take over and finish the evening.

Now what are you listening to in your personal time this summer, Keith? What's the Keith Lockhart summer playlist looking like?

People always ask that question. It's always you know, I wish I could warn them in advance because the answer is really unspectacular. I tend to listen to music that I'm working on and I don't listen to a lot of other music, because honestly, it feels like a busman's holiday. You know, I spend so much time listening to music critically, it's kind of hard to listen to it in the background. That having been said, I worked with Jon Batiste at the beginning of this summer and on the Fourth of July, and he was so amazing that I've taken the time to get know his catalogue a little bit more. And you know, you can't go wrong with classic rock for a kid from the 60s and 70s.

Now, Keith, you've sort of done it all: You've played Super Bowls, you've played World Series, you've conducted orchestras the world over- When you look back on your prolific career, are there particular moments that sum up what it means to reach the heights of conducting?

Well, I had a different set of answers, I suppose, prior to March 2020, than I have more recently about to that question. I always pointed out the first time I did the Fourth of July on the Esplanade, for you know, half million people in the live audience as being a big deal. My Carnegie Hall debut, my first concert with the Pops in Japan, a lot of moments like that. But I have to say that the moments I'm most grateful for and stick out and strongest relief in my mind now are the ones that I've done coming back from the pandemic. So they really all took place within this last month or so, starting at Tanglewood on the Fourth of July and continuing down to my own summer festival in North Carolina. The idea of being out there again, putting yourself on the line, giving, having a shared emotional experience with an audience- Something that I have taken for granted for the last 40 years of my life and having it taken away, there's nothing that makes you appreciate it more

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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