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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus 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.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid