Use the scroller on the image above of Keith Lockhart to see his first days with the Pops in this May 10, 1995 (left) photo contrasted against his recent Pops opening night performance on May 8, 2013.
Photos: Bill Brett/Globe staff/file (left) and Stu Rosner/Globe Staff
By Doug Most | Globe Staff
“He looks like a cross between Ricky Nelson and Richard Thomas in his John-Boy days, and he has a very pleasant way of chatting up the audience.”
That’s how Boston Globe classical music critic Richard Dyer, in his May 19, 1994, review of a Boston Pops concert, described the youthful, neatly coiffed visiting conductor who was in charge that night. The 34-year-old Keith Lockhart, then the associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony and the Cincinnati Pops, was the favorite to replace the legendary John Williams, and sure enough the Boston Pops baton was passed a few months later.
These two photos are as much a testament to Lockhart’s good genes — that 53-year-old face in the photo from the Pops’ May 8 season-opening concert could easily pass for 10 years younger — as to his good standing in the community. Just as Williams became synonymous with the Pops and Seiji Ozawa with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, it’s difficult now to imagine anybody other than a tuxedo-clad Lockhart looking out at a relaxed Pops audience with his broad smile and tousled brown hair, and cracking wise with the latest celebrity musician to join him.
It hasn’t been smooth for all 19 years. There was his marriage to, and divorce from, BSO violinist Lucia Lin. And some critics complain he’s too much style and not enough musical substance.
But if you’ve been to a Pops concert and to a BSO performance, you know the difference. One is like the 18th hole at the Masters, where even a sneeze draws sneers, and the other is, well, the Pops. There’s chatter among audience members, shuffling feet, and banter from the stage. The music matters, of course, but Lockhart is most in his element when the audience is boisterous, and when the musicians are not simply playing for him, but playing along with him.
It’s why the Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade is so rousing. It’s one big party with the conductor as the host, doing what he does best: “Chatting up the audience,” as Dyer wrote nearly 20 years ago.
Would you want it any other way?