tampabay.com: Keith Lockhart talks 20 years with the Boston Pops

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Whenever Keith Lockhart’s young sons see a conductor, any conductor, on the television, they run to the screen. It’s Dad!

With good reason. Lockhart has been the visible and acclaimed conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 20 years, longer than they have been alive. That equals more than 1,600 shows, 39 tours, 11 albums and 73 television shows. When he’s not with the Boston Pops, he is working as principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Lockhart, 55, is known for his easygoing style and chatter with the audience. He has brought modern sensibilities and evolution to the Pops since taking the helm in 1995, collaborating with everyone from Chris Botti to Steven Tyler.

He was enjoying some post-Christmas downtime at home before heading to Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Tuesday, the first stop on the Very Best of the Boston Pops tour. Lockhart will lead the Pops in a night of Dvorak, Copland, Ellington, Gershwin, Queen, even compositions of his Pops predecessor, John Williams.

We caught up with Lockhart to reflect on the past 20 years of the Boston Pops — and who knows? Maybe the next.

How do you wrap your head around 20 years?

It’s kind of weird. I still think of myself as being 35, when I took the job. The calendar doesn’t lie but it is very weird to see the passage of time and think of how many concerts, how many musical experiences and how much of my life has been spent with the Boston Pops.

I know you love Christmas, but it must be a relief to be through the season.

I did 41 concerts in December.

That’s more concerts than days.

There were occasionally threes and a lot of twos. That’s great, but nothing else gets done, between that and my little kids at home. I don’t even buy Christmas gifts. My wife has to do that.

Do the Pops draw folks who have never experienced an orchestra before?

We try very hard to pull in an audience. As I like to tell people, we’re the orchestra for people who don’t know they like the orchestra. But by the nature of the wide range of repertoire we play, and by the nature of the non-off-putting way in which we attempt to present it, I think we draw a wider audience. As a result, I think it’s a really refreshing sort of thing, and a really necessary thing in the performing arts world these days.

Is it insulting to assume pops are a stepping stool to masterworks?

People used to say, they’ll come to the pops concert and then they’ll sigh up for the all-Mahler season next year, but that’s never really happened. But I don’t think that’s the point. We are a broad-based cultural resource, and we play music for a lot of different people with a lot of different interests. Is this a training wheel orchestra? No. It’s a great orchestra playing great music. I think we level the playing field. Stealing from Arthur Fiedler, my illustrious predecessor, he said we only play one kind of music. The interesting kind.

How have you managed to keep things relevant in a changing world?

It’s harder and harder. The changes in the world in terms of communication and in terms of the way consumers digest entertainment product, if you will, are just so mammoth from the time I came that I feel like an antique. When people are like, “Come on, you’ve only been there 20 years, not a century,” I tell them that when I came to Boston as the newly minted conductor, I had no cell phone and no email address, and I wasn’t weird. I was not a hermit living in a cave. That speaks to the changes, and of the big challenges for performing arts institutions in general. So many people now are used to taking their entertainment products individually, on demand and in the comfort of their home. The one thing we need to sell is the thrill of live performance. There is nothing that compares. It’s the essence of community and joining with your fellow human beings and experiencing art done in front of your eyes. It’s really about reminding people of how important that is.

Is there anything you haven’t done in 20 years?

I haven’t convinced Bruce Springsteen to sing the 4th of July with me. I need to do it before I die or quit, one of the two.

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