Boston Pops Orchestra coming to Peace Center

For the Herald-Journal 

Keith Lockhart is no stranger to South Carolina. The conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra, known as “America’s Orchestra,” attended Furman University from 1977 to 1981. This Tuesday, he’s bringing the Pops to The Peace Center for the Performing Arts for a show that involves a collaboration with Furman’s Symphony in the second half. For Lockhart, this is a unique stop on the tour because “outreach to university music programs is so important.”

Keith Lockhart is no stranger to South Carolina. The conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra, known as “America’s Orchestra,” attended Furman University from 1977 to 1981.

The Pops were founded in 1885 as a second, popular identity (“Popular Concerts” shortened to “Pops”) of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the orchestra performs a Spring season of popular music and a holiday program in December while the BSO is on break. Lockhart became the conductor in 1995, following in a tradition of such noted conductors as Arthur Fiedler and John Williams.

Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he originally planned to go to law school. “I liked Furman,” he says, “because it was a strong liberal arts school with a good music program, but not the other way around.” Although he had begun playing piano at the age of seven, he still thought “real people don’t do that” and pursued a degree in German. A music teacher, however, noticed something that Lockhart describes as “a coaching and teaching mentality, an ability to see the sum is bigger than the parts.”

After continuing his education at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he became the associate conductor of both the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops orchestras for a decade. Eventually, he ended up in Boston and has been with them for 18 seasons, all the while appealing to a younger audience without forgetting the orchestra’s base and bringing a contemporary flavor to the music. “Since starting my career 30 years ago the landscape has changed,” Lockhart said. “There are half as many full-time orchestras, and the compression is palpable. We have to keep up with the Internet age.”

This is the third stop on the current 2013 Southeast USA Tour for the Boston Pops that started on Feb. 24 in Virginia and ends in Florida on March 6. The theme of this tour is tunes from “The Barbara Streisand Songbook” in commemoration of her turning 70 last year, and paying tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who died in 2012. “Barbara is so iconic like very few others,” said Lockhart, “and Marvin’s death was unfortunate but fortuitous for the theme of the show,” that features music of Hamlisch’s music from “Ice Castles” and “A Chorus Line,” Popular Broadway singer Ann Hampton Callaway, who has performed with the Pops on four previous occasions, will sing the Streisand parts and is, as Lockhart puts, “a blessing on the project.”

For the second half of the show, Lockhart will first lead the Furman Symphony Orchestra through “Finlandia,” followed by the Boston Pops and Furman Symphony playing the “1812 Overture” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” side by side. “This was quite a logistical operation to set up,” says Dr. Thomas Joiner, the Director of the Furman Symphony Orchestra. “Orchestras on tour don’t generally rehearse,” he says, “so the Pops and Furman will be on stage for the first time together during the show!” Earlier in the day on Tuesday, however, Lockhart and 10 of the Pops’ musicians will go to Furman to practice sectionals and get acquainted with one another. “It’s all very exciting and terrifying,” Joiner said.

Lockhart, meanwhile, has played with the Pops at the Bi-Lo Center and Timmons Arena before but not the Peace Center. “Every theater has its quirks,” he said, “but we’re anticipating the challenge.”