Story of the Boston Pops
Boston Pops Orchestra
The Boston Pops Orchestra
is an American orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts which
specializes in playing light classical and popular music.
The Boston Pops was founded in 1885 as a second, popular identity of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), founded four years earlier. Consisting of a majority of the musicians of the BSO, although generally not the first chair players, the orchestra performs a summer season of popular music in a casual setting at Symphony Hall and outdoors at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade in Boston. Closely identified with its long time director Arthur Fiedler, the orchestra has recorded extensively, made frequent tours and appeared regularly on television. The summer pops season allowed the BSO to become one of the first American orchestras to provide year-round employment for its musicians.
The current Music Director of the Boston Pops Orchestra is Keith Lockhart.
In 1881, Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, wrote of his wish to present in Boston "concerts of a lighter kind of music." The Boston Pops Orchestra was founded to present this kind of music to the public, with the first concert performed in 1885. Called the "Promenade Concerts" until 1900, these performances combined light classical music, tunes from the current hits of the musical theater, and an occasional novelty number. Allowing for some changes of taste over the course of a century, the early programs were remarkably similar to the Boston Pops programs of today.
The Boston Pops Orchestra did not adopt its own official conductor until 1930, when Arthur Fiedler began a fifty-year tenure as the Pops conductor. Under Fiedler's direction the orchestra's popularity spread far beyond the city of Boston through recordings, radio and television. Unhappy with the reputation of classical music as being solely for affluent concert goers, Fiedler made efforts to bring classical music to a wider audience. He instituted a series of free concerts at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, a public park beside the Charles River. Fiedler insisted that the Pops Orchestra play popular music as well as well-known classical pieces, opening up a new niche of popular symphonic music. Of the many musical pieces created for the orchestra, the Pops' most identifiable works were the colorful novelty numbers composed by Leroy Anderson, including "Sleigh Ride", "The Typewriter" and others.
Under Fiedler's direction, the Boston Pops sold more commercial recordings than any other orchestra in the world, with total sales of albums, singles, tapes, and cassettes exceeding $50 million. The orchestra's first recordings were made in July 1935 for RCA Victor, including the first complete recording of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The Pops made their first high fidelity recording on June 20, 1947, of Gaîté Parisienne (based on the music of Jacques Offenbach), and recorded the same music seven years later in stereophonic sound, their first venture in multitrack recording.
Fiedler is also credited with having begun the annual tradition of the Fourth of July Pops concert and fireworks display on the Esplanade, one of the best-attended Independence Day celebrations in the country with estimated crowds of 200,000–500,000 people. Also during Fiedler's tenure, the Pops and local public television station WGBH developed a series of weekly televised broadcasts recorded during the Pops' regular season in Symphony Hall, Evening at Pops.
The list of artist-performers during this period includes world-class soloists and contains some historic and legendary names who performed on the many Boston Pops tours that went to hundreds of cities across the country throughout the 1950s through the '70s.
After Fiedler's death in 1979, he was succeeded as conductor of the Boston Pops by the noted film composer John Williams. Williams continued the Pops' tradition of bringing classical music to a wider audiences, initiating the annual "Pops-on-the-Heights" concerts at Boston College and adding his own library of well-known film scores (including Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to its repertoire.
Keith Lockhart assumed the post of principal Pops conductor in 1995. Lockhart continues to conduct the Boston Pops today, adding a touch of flamboyance and a flair for the dramatic to his performances. Williams remains the Laureate Conductor of the Pops and conducts a week of Pops concerts most years. Lockhart brought in numerous pop-music acts to play with the orchestra, including Ben Folds, Rockapella, Guster, My Morning Jacket, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello.