Q+A: Keith Lockhart

After 17 seasons conducting the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart is as much a part of the Fourth of July around here as Sam or John Adams. (Okay, not quite, but it seems that way!) This year’s Hatch Shell spectacular features star singer Jennifer Hudson and, thankfully, no country music.

boston pops conductor keith lockhard

Keith Lockhart photo by Stu Rosner

All right, so Jennifer Hudson.
Great performer, great voice, a lot of visibility. I think it will be a great party for the Fourth.

Do you get much say in choosing the celebrity artist?
We have a lot of partners in the mix, and there are monetary and program-balancing issues and all that. We have weigh-in and we have approval on anybody, but CBS has the longest arms.

The past couple of years, we’ve had country singers Martina McBride and Toby Keith, which is not really our style here in Boston.
There’s a couple of reasons for that: Country singers tend to be more into it conceptually. There’s a patriotic element to that, but they also seem to not be as scared about the idea of showing up with an orchestra. Also, this is Boston’s Fourth of July, but it’s also the nation’s Fourth of July, and we’re trying to find people who everybody will like. Country, whether or not it tops Boston’s airwaves, is the predominant music for the majority of the U.S.

But of course you know that everything is about us. Is there a sense that the show has gotten away from its Boston roots?
Well, we try not to let that happen. When you’re dealing with national television, some of that is a little inevitable. That being said, I think the true glory of the show is not just the 20 minutes that the national audience sees. It’s a two-hour concert. And the rest of the show always features a lot of Boston talent.

Every year, it kills me how you guys are rolling with the patriotic songs and then the fireworks start and it switches to, like, Ke$ha and pop music on the loudspeaker. Can’t you guys play through?
We’ve talked about it. My preference would be to have us play live through the fireworks. But it’s difficult to do, and the Pops don’t control the fireworks display. The fireworks are carefully choreographed, and the people who do them prefer recorded tracks, which don’t have slight variations. Also, when the fireworks start, they turn the lights off in the Hatch Shell, which we need to play. But I still would love to do the entire fireworks show with live Boston Pops music. I think that would be really cool.

Do you have a dream performer you’d like to get?
Springsteen. We have made some tries, but it’s a little freaky for some people to do live television with very little rehearsal, backed by an orchestra, which is not the way these people normally roll. I have mutual friends with him, and they’ve put the ask out, but so far we haven’t had it happen. But it pays to be persistent. We talked for a decade with Steven Tyler before he did it.

And the key is that Tyler actually stayed on the stage.
Yeah, he did. He didn’t fall off it backward or anything. We always consider that a victory.

What type of music do you listen to besides fancy music?
Everybody thinks it’s a cop-out answer, but I listen to music for pleasure so rarely. I just don’t, because I listen to music professionally all the time. Your brain needs a break.

I feel like that’s a cover for having an iPod full of Bieber.
Yes, yes, exactly, it’s all Justin Bieber, and when I’m looking for the older classics stuff, it’s all Barry Manilow.

One more thing: Last year, there was the whole ordeal with the magic fireworks superimposed over Fenway Park and other places they couldn’t possibly be. Did you know that was happening?
I heard about it afterward. I wouldn’t have done that, but that’s not my call. If you want to have computer-created fireworks, you can do that, and it can be totally spectacular, but the whole point of these fireworks is that they’re real, and the whole point of this concert is that it’s real. I think keeping it real is what makes it, in an age when so many things can be faked, a wonderfully genuine event.

Follow Jason Schwartz on Twitter @SchwartzHub.