Questions For. . . Keith Lockhart

1194621935Most of us don’t associate the Boston Pops with technological innovation, but that perception might be changing. Last week, the Pops launched BostonPops.TV, an online broadcast of the orchestra’s “Oscar and Tony” program. We talked to conductor Keith Lockhart about how the reaction has been to the group’s first in the nation Internet broadcast, what he did on his honeymoon, and the impracticality of his threatening to shoot us.

How did PopsTV come about?
I have to say, I like to take credit for all the great ideas at the Boston Pops, but this one wasn’t mine. Frankly, I hadn’t heard of Internet TV. The media scene is shifting so rapidly, and there are all these new media, and so many involve the internet. About a year ago, somebody said, ‘No orchestras have been doing this kind of thing, this is a great chance to get our foot in the door where we may well find a new audience,’ and I said, sure.

How has the reaction been?
I don’t know how many hits we’ve gotten, but the critical commentary has been really strong. Everybody’s said it’s a really good first effort and that it’s informative, especially with the running commentary underneath. People are so into seeing behind-the-scenes things. You can see a recording session with our sleeves rolled up and see what goes into putting together a project. It’s kind of an idea stolen from reality TV or all the value-added stuff on DVDs.

In the past, you’ve said that the Boston Pops has to “sell the process of live engagement.” How does PopsTV accomplish that?
Any way we can keep our visibility high in as many different media fields as possible is useful for the ultimate thing; selling the live concert experience. What we hope to capture in any of these things is something of the live excitement of being at a concert, hoping that people will say, ‘Gee, if it’s that good on my 12-inch screen, think how exciting it would be in person.’

Does the Pops have other plans to bring its music to other new media? Maybe “Pops OnDemand”?
Yeah, we have feelers out in all of those directions. As usual with the classical music industry, it’s a little behind the times and so many popular acts are putting their stuff out direct to the Internet right now. We’re available for download on iTunes, but we’ve just skimmed the surface of this. I’d love to see the kind of thing were you can go to the OnDemand on your Comcast and get a whole library of Boston Pops shows.

What did you think of Radiohead’s plan to sell their music for whatever price fans wanted to pay?
I’m interested to see what the result of that is. One of the unfortunate things of the Internet revolution is that so much stuff is available to us that we have a whole generation growing up that thinks these things are supposed to be free. The message that needs to come out—not just from orchestras or from Radiohead—is that these things cost money to do and they are certain people’s livelihoods, and we need to come up with a fair way of compensating people.

Have you experienced anything that quite compares to the fight at the Ben Folds concert earlier this year in your years of conducting the Pops?
No, that was pretty much the only fistfight we’ve ever had. It was very funny because it became something that would not die and caused endless publicity, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. We do see 2,000 people a night. We have no control over who those people are or what they’ve had to drink. In any typical game at Fenway you’d have several more people ejected for the same sort of behavior.

Right after it happened, I ran into Terry Francona, and the first thing he said was, ‘Hey, I hear it’s safer to be at Fenway than at Symphony Hall!’ You gotta laugh.

Did you see any good concerts while you were on your honeymoon?
The last thing I would do is go to a concert on my honeymoon. That sounds like the worst possible way to spend my time.

Do you ever see other concerts?
Rarely. I do somewhere around 140 concerts a year, which is almost one every other night when you average it out. When I described this to someone, they said ‘Yeah, I bet PGA golfers don’t play golf on the weekends.’ It’s hard to be an audience member when you’re a performer because you see things in a very different way. That being said, it’s always good to get fresh ideas, but I have to say I’m not as good at going to other people’s concerts as I probably should be.

Do you ever get tired of it?
Over the long haul, I don’t get tired of it, but over the short haul, of course. Obviously, I’m very lucky. I have an incredible job that involves being very visible in front of a lot of highly supportive people. That having been said, everyone complains about their lot, and eventually there’s repetition. It can’t be helped. But I love what I do, and I love being engaged with live audiences. It’s in my DNA.

If the Pops could collaborate with any pop or rock artist for “Pops on the Edge,” who would you like to work with?
Oh wow. There are lots of people, both On the Edge and a little bit more to the mainstream, who we’ve got feelers out to and that have been interested. It’s just a matter of making them drop. One of the most recent ones we’ve been very excited about is the possibility of working with John Mayer, which we had discussed and hasn’t come to fruition yet. So, John, if you’re reading this interview. . .

Can you give us any hints on who will play the 4th?
We haven’t gotten that far in our planning yet. We’ve certainly thought about it, but if we had decided, unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I could tell you, but then I’d have to shoot you.

But we’re on the phone. You can’t shoot us.
Wow. You got past that one.