By the time Keith Lockhart became the twentieth conductor of the Boston Pops in 1995, at the age of 35, the Poughkeepsie, New York, native had spent plenty of time involved in all sorts of music. Even before he started piano lessons at the age of 7, he was listening to the jazz and classical records his dad was playing at home. Though Lockhart was being trained mostly in classical, during his time at the South Carolina liberal arts school Furman University, where he ended up declaring as a music major, he worked on his chops in pop music, playing electric piano and synthesizer and singing background vocals in a Top-40 cover band at high school proms. The group also made a few bucks by regularly backing an Elvis impersonator, which Lockhart enjoyed “because I got to do a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis sort of piano.”
When it came to playing serious music, he eventually realized that “I was a good pianist, as opposed to a great pianist. But I really wanted to perform.” One of his professors suggested that due to his analytical approach as a musician, he might want to consider conducting, and the idea took hold. After more studying, Lockhart eventually conducted the Pittsburgh Civic Orchestra, became assistant conductor of the Akron Symphony Orchestra, then in 1990 served as associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops orchestras. Three years after being hired to fill the shoes of John Williams at the Boston Pops, Lockhart also took on the duties as music director of the Utah Symphony Orchestra, but ended that professional relationship in 2009 in order to concentrate on the Pops. He defines his gig as “recreative artistry.” In other words, he takes material that was written by other people, then makes it work for new people.
Once settled in Boston, Lockhart took the old Arthur Fiedler variety show formula – light classical at the start of a program, a concerto soloist after the first intermission, and a popular-current music mix after the second intermission – and made some improvements by adding a new breed of guest artists. Among the luminaries he’s had perform with the orchestra are: Amanda Palmer, Elvis Costello, James Taylor, Aerosmith, Bela Fleck, Steve Martin, Mariah Carey, and many more. Perhaps most important about Lockhart’s tenure in Boston is that the once diehard Mets fan has become a Red Sox fan.
by Ed Symkus