News / USA

Premier US Orchestra Celebrates 125th Birthday

Boston Pops makes orchestral music more accessible for wider audiences

Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops during a July Fourth concert.
Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops during a July Fourth concert.

Multimedia

Audio

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Boston Pops - the granddaddy of America's popular orchestras.

Since 1897, practically every Boston Pops concert has ended with John Phillip Sousa's immortal march: "Stars and Stripes Forever".

It's part of the repertoire of almost every local orchestra and school band around the country. The Boston Pops and its conductor for 50 years, Arthur Fiedler, had a lot to do with its popularity, according to John Williams, the Hollywood composer who followed in Fiedler's footsteps.

Conductor Arthur Fiedler, who led the Pops for 50 years, made light orchestral music more accessible to a wider audience.
Conductor Arthur Fiedler, who led the Pops for 50 years, made light orchestral music more accessible to a wider audience.

"I think Stars and Stripes goes with the orchestra, goes with the hall and the entire spirit of what the Pops has brought to the American public, principally, but I think because of Fiedler's television and recordings, to a public around the world, as well," Fiedler says.

Accessible orchestra music

But long before Fiedler picked up the baton, the Boston Pops had carved out a niche, bringing light orchestral music to wide audiences.

"As I like to say it, the Pops is the orchestra for people who don't know they like orchestras," says Keith Lockhart, who's been conducting the Boston Pops for the past 16 years. The orchestra was formed in 1885 by some of the Boston Symphony's early benefactors, who were looking to expand the orchestra's appeal by playing popular music. Within a few years, these became known as pops concerts.

"Boston is the first city in the country to have had a public library," says Lockhart. "And, in many ways, I think these very civic-minded people thought, 'How do we make this institution really resonate with lots and lots of people?'"

One way was to make the concerts a festive social occasion. From the beginning, food and drink have been served during Boston Pops performances. In fact, when the city's Symphony Hall was built in 1900, one of its principal features was an elevator in the center of the auditorium, so the seats could be removed and tables put in their place.

Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops in a tribute to Leonard Bernstein.
Keith Lockhart leads the Boston Pops in a tribute to Leonard Bernstein.

The idea, from the beginning, was to make the Boston Pops feel like a different way to experience music.

"You just know that in the slow movement of something that's very poignant and soft, somebody is gonna drop a wine glass," says Lockhart. "But that happens. That's part of the deal."

National icon

Arthur Fiedler was a 35-year-old viola player in the Boston Symphony when he was hired to conduct the Pops in 1930. He soon turned the local phenomenon into a national icon.

Fiedler wanted the Pops to move beyond light European classics and present new American work. He hired a young bandmaster from Harvard, named Leroy Anderson, to do some arrangements for the Pops, then commissioned him to write some new pieces.

"He ended up being the American Johann Strauss, Jr., the ultimate American composer of light, perfectly crafted orchestral music," says Lockhart. "And much of his repertoire, pieces like, oh, Syncopated Clock and Sleigh Ride and things like that we play to this day."

Fiedler used a winning formula for Pops concerts. He started with light orchestral works in the first part, a concerto in the middle, and then let loose at the end, says double bass player Larry Wolfe.

"We let our hair down and rocked as much as we were able and swung as much as we were able," says Wolfe.

Fiedler's son, Peter, says his dad wasn't a snob when it came to programming, embracing rock music by groups like the Beatles.

"The fact that he took, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," and had that arranged for the Pops was just brilliant," says Peter Fiedler. "I mean it took off like a rocket."

Under Fiedler, the Pops truly became a national orchestra, touring the country and appearing on television. After his death, the baton passed to John Williams, best known for composing Academy-Award winning movie scores. He continued his predecessor's traditions, but brought some Hollywood flair to the podium.

Modern times

"Actually, I was very self-conscious about playing my own music in those concerts and rarely did it, in the '80s."

Bass player Larry Wolfe says it's always a kick to play John Williams' music.

"We're playing this stuff. The man who composed it is conducting us. And, the audience knows it. They sense that same kind of excitement and are just as engaged as we are."

Current conductor Lockhart says one of the most exciting - and well-attended - events of every Boston Pops season comes on the evening of July Fourth.

"The July Fourth concert is an amazing thing. It's more of a sociological phenomenon than it is a musical event, but we are at the center of it. In the course of one concert, we play for a larger live crowd than all but I think two or three orchestras in the entire country play for, over the entire year. This is 500,000 or 600,000 people. It's a huge, huge party."

And the party continues all summer.

The Boston Pops will be giving concerts in and around Boston and at Tanglewood in the Berkshires.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid