Keith Lockhart waves a mean baton in front of the Boston Pops, but there was a time when he was hoping to be swinging a bat at Shea Stadium.
Keith Lockhart waves a mean baton in front of the Boston Pops, but there was a time when he was hoping to be swinging a bat at Shea Stadium. Lockhart is an unabashed baseball nut. As a kid, growing up in Poughkeepsie, he played shortstop and second base, and rooted for the Mets. He remembers seeing Carl Yastrzemski play on TV, yet admits that the Red Sox weren’t really on his radar.
“But I’m very much a Red Sox fan now,” says Lockhart, who’s celebrating his 15th year conducting the Pops with a jam-packed new season of concerts and the release of “The Red Sox Album,” a collection of baseball-related music and songs.
“I was once contemplating whether we could do an all-sports sort of album because for a while last year it looked like we had a chance of a triple crown in Boston, till the Patriots, after a great year, lost to Arizona,” says Lockhart, relaxing on a couch in a back room at Symphony Hall.
Then he focused his thinking on the Red Sox, and the parallels between the team and the Pops: “two institutions that play in two places that are famed temples of their respective disciplines.”
An initial meeting with Sox president Larry Lucchino led to a discussion of doing not just a baseball album, but an album that would go out to the broader Red Sox Nation. It all happened pretty quickly.
“We put it together, found days in the season to perform it, and we recorded it live over three nights,” says Lockhart. “We used the best takes — the ones where nobody’s watch alarm or cell phone went off in the middle of it.”
The album leads off with “The Star-Spangled Banner” and covers a series of general baseball music such as “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and a suite from the movie “The Natural,” as well as the Red Sox-centric “Sweet Caroline.”
Lockhart is particularly happy with the inclusion of the Sousa march “The National Game,” which was written in the 1920s to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National League.
“At the end of phrases in a march, you always have cymbal crashes,” explains Lockhart. “But Sousa wrote in ‘the crack of a baseball bat’ in those places. At live performances we have an apparatus that’s basically a big rolling pin that’s suspended, and we mike it, and I hit it with a bat. For the recording, the Red Sox loaned us David Ortiz, and he was really into it, he thought it was hysterical. We went down to the batting cages at Fenway, and he took live batting practice. He took about 29 cuts, we recorded them, and we took them back, and through the miracle of digital editing we put them into the piece. So it’s David’s orchestral debut.”
Lockhart and the Pops will be performing selections from “The Red Sox Album” at their Baseball Night concerts (May 21-23), part of the Pops’ amazingly diverse season, which starts on May 6 with an appearance by Broadway singer-actress Barbara Cook.
“The Pops is part of the BSO, but we’re kind of our own separate little nation state in there,” says Lockhart, before explaining how a typical season of concerts is planned.
“Dennis Alves is my artistic administrator. We always have long-term things, but generally speaking, as soon as this season is up and running, we’ll be talking about Christmas and next season. Then it’s sort of a jigsaw puzzle, and we pull in marketing people, which is something that’s changed over the time I’ve been here.
“When I first came the Pops was eight or nine weeks of undifferentiated Pops concerts. Two or three of them actually had titles. The rest of them said the Boston Pops with Keith Lockhart. But the consumer is much cagier now; they want to know exactly what they’re getting. And we find ourselves selling to niches. So now it’s the Boston Pops and Keith Lockhart playing baseball or it’s us performing with a jazz artist or with an indy rock band. You try to come up with a mix.”
The discussion reminds Lockhart of his first press conference as the newly named conductor of the Pops in February, 1995. He had dinner that night with John Williams, and asked the outgoing Pops conductor if he had any words of advice.
“He said, ‘People will all ask you what you’re going to do with the Pops. But it’s a 110-year-old institution. And it’s been working very well. Don’t worry about trying to make it yours. Just by dint of your personality and the choices you make, it will slowly become yours anyway.’
“So I didn’t come in with an idea of major renovations,” says Lockhart. “I think what you do is allow it to change with the times. The point of the Pops is to connect musical popular culture with a more deeply rooted longer lasting culture. Which is why you can hear a Brahms violin concerto and My Morning Jacket on the same program.”
Among the most interesting programs this season is an Apollo 11 Anniversary Concert (June 12 and 13) in honor of the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, featuring selections from “The Planets,” pieces associated with “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and music from “Star Trek” and “Battlestar Galactica,” as well as an appearance by astronaut Buzz Aldrin. A noteworthy pairing is a concert with jazz guitarist-singer John Pizzarelli and avant-garde cellist Maya Beiser (May 12 and 13).
Lockhart points out that Pizzarelli, who has performed numerous times with the Pops, is “the quintessential New Yorker, but he’s a huge Red Sox fan, and hates the Yankees.”
So it always comes back to baseball for Lockhart, who has fond memories of throwing out the first ball at Fenway, as have John Williams and Seji Ozawa.
“I stood on the mound, and Doug Mirabelli caught,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘OK, not in the dirt, not over the backstop. Over the plate would be the third goal. A strike would be the fourth goal.’ It was about six inches high, right around 50 mph, which, given the Sox pitching at that time, wasn’t all that bad. I could’ve been middle relief.”
Of his cohorts’ performance, he smiles and says, “I’m the only one of the three who has put it over the plate.”
The Boston Pops season runs from May 6 to Jun 21. For information, visit www.keithlockhart.com.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.Fast fact:
While in college, Keith Lockhart played piano in a rock cover band and backed an Elvis impersonator for about a year and a half.