Keith Lockhart Knows What's Spectacular

For our monthly "My Boston" column, Boston Pops Orchestra's leading man shares his favorite things—about Boston, his travels, and the tremendous concert he conducts every year on July 4

Travelers to Boston may not know Keith Lockhart by name, but they certainly know his work—as Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, he's the man responsible for the city's incredible annual Fourth of July concert and fireworks display on the Charles River Esplanade. The New York native has been living in Boston since 1995 and has conducted more than 1,500 Pops concerts during his tenure. He's played at the Super Bowl, the Olympic Games, and for Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, leading London's BBC Concert Orchestra where he also serves as Principal Conductor. Admittedly, Lockhart doesn't have much free time, but he certainly travels a lot. Here he chats about his Boston experiences, his hobbies, and his dream destination.

Your biggest splash of the year—the annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concert—is July 4. Do you still get nervous for it?

This is my 20th year. I don't get nervous for it. Anticipatory, yes. There's a lot going on. It's live TV. There's a live audience of some 600,000 people. So, you know, what's to get nervous about?! There are a lot of things that we have to get right with no second chances, so it's very exciting. I can't think of a public event that's like it anywhere else in the country. More people see the Boston Pops as the centerpiece of America's Independence party than see most orchestras over the course of an entire year, just in that one day. It's a great way to say 'happy birthday' to America and remember Boston's historical roots.

What’s your favorite moment of the evening?

Honestly, I have to say there are two: One, at the very beginning of the concert, when I walk out onstage. It's hard to describe what the roar of a half million people is like. It's really thrilling. It was a little nervous-making the first time I'd done it, but now I look forward to kicking off the party. My second favorite time is the very end of the concert when we finish the 1812 Overture with all those cannons and bells and we are doing the final piece, and I realize that I can stand outside with everybody else and watch the fireworks.

Performing at the Hatch Shell must be a vastly different experience to the stage at Symphony Hall where you host the Pops' regular season?

It is a very different situation and [performing at the Hatch Shell] has its own challenges because of that. Weather being the primary one among them. But, we've been very lucky almost all of the time, and we will hope that string continues. This is an orchestra that plays at celebrations and festivals all around the country. We are very used to playing in unusual circumstances. We've played at the Super Bowl. We've played at Fenway Park for the World Series ring ceremonies, and we've played sports arenas. Basically, it's hard to phase us. 

You're not a native Bostonian, but you’ve lived in this city a long time?

I've lived in Boston since 1995, the majority of my adult life. It's a town that offers so much. It's one of those places where I had thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be great if I could live there.' It's been an easy place to adapt to, since I am from New York. I was never a Yankees fan, so it's been easy to make the switch.  

First impression of the city and did it turn out to be accurate?

I remember very clearly coming in the night before the press conference that announced my appointment; this would have been the night of February 5, 1995. I was staying at the Four Seasons, right across from the Public Garden. I remember it was a cold February night and the pond was frozen solid. I remember looking out my window and seeing the gas-lit area around the park, and seeing people skating in long coats and muffs on the pond. I don't know, maybe I'm imagining it at this point, but it looked like a Currier & Ives engraving. I said, 'Wow, what a really cool place, that is modern and cutting-edge in so many ways, but has roots that go down so very deeply.' 

If you’re not performing, where do you go to see live music?

The funny thing is, I go to very few concerts that I'm not actually performing in, because I perform about 140 concerts a year. There's a lot of great venues. Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall for classical music. House of Blues. Tanglewood, of course, which is not in Boston, but is a place where a lot of people retreat to for great music in the summer. 

If not music, what do you like to do in your down time?

There are a lot of things I like to do, [but] I don't do much of them. I like to read. I like to cook. In the winter, I like to ski. Hike and various things like that. Mostly what I do these days is be a dad. I have three boys: 10 years old, four years old and two years old. They pretty much take care of all the available time, when I am not conducting. 

Where do you like to take them?

In terms of the youngest ones, both the Museum of Science and the Children's Museum are great places. We take them to the zoo, and, in the fall, apple picking. One of the great things about this city is that even though there is so much here in the city, it is very easy to get away from the city. You can go a half hour in any direction and be in a place that seems untouched. My wife and I just purchased a place on the Cape, so that is where we'll be going a lot of the time. 

When you travel, what is on your playlist?

Usually what I have to conduct next week. I think it's true of a lot of musicians; I don't listen to a lot of music that I'm not actually involved with. You need to clear your brain. Listening to music for fun is less fun when you listen to it all the rest of the time. It's just like professional golfers don't play golf on the weekends. 

What are your top three travel destinations?

Some of the more remote parts of the Caribbean, where my wife and I like to sail; the kind of place where you can find your own island. I would say Europe, in general. I've spent a lot of time there professionally, but for a musician there's no richer place to be than where the foundation of what we do comes from. And, third, to the New England coastline.

If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?

Oh, in Italy on the Amalfi Coast. But, where I get to wake up isn't so bad, either.

Keith Lockhart planned his own perfect day in Boston trip itinerary. Follow it on your next visit.