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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs