It was David G. Mugar’s idea, 43 years ago, to pump up a flagging July Fourth concert series by adding Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” — da-da-da-da-da dunt dunt da! — accompanied by fireworks, church bells, and cannon fire.
In the years since, the annual outdoor Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade has grown into one of the city’s most hallowed traditions, with Mugar at the helm as the event’s executive producer.
Now, after more than four decades, Mugar is planning his last Esplanade extravaganza, and will retire with the final burst of fireworks on July 4, 2016, the businessman and philanthropist confirmed on Wednesday.
Mugar said he’ll be 77 by then.
“It just seemed a good time to choose to do it,” he said in a phone interview, “and not waiting on the sidelines for God to choose when I can’t do it anymore.”
“I want to see this event transition for the future to someone new. I want to go out on my own terms and put the event in good hands.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh compared Mugar’s announcement to those rare and memorable occasions “when there’s a new conductor of the Boston Pops. It’s a big change and something we’ll have to get used to.
“He’s made great contributions to our city,” said Walsh, who said he spoke privately to Mugar about his decision on Tuesday. “He fortunately said he’ll be around to help and mentor whoever comes after him.”
Who might that be? And how might that person be selected?
None of that has been worked out, Mugar said.
Mugar is credited with resurrecting the Fourth of July event in 1973, along with then-Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, who died in 1979.
Today, some 500,000 people attend the annual show on the banks of the Charles River, celebrating Independence Day with the Pops and an enormous fireworks display.
Governor Charlie Baker, in a statement Wednesday, said, “David Mugar, in his 43 years at the helm, has made the Boston Pops Fourth of July show an annually anticipated event for all of New England and is part of what makes Massachusetts great.”
Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart said the orchestra is “deeply grateful” to Mugar for his commitment to the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular.
“David’s passionate belief in the importance of bringing a truly celebratory Independence Day concert to the citizens of Boston has extended through the tenures of three Boston Pops conductors, including Arthur Fiedler … and my predecessor John Williams,” Lockhart said, in a statement. “It has been my privilege to lead the nation’s premier July 4 event for 21 years.
“The Boston Pops remains committed to presenting many more years of Fourth of July concerts on the Charles River Esplanade,” Lockhart said. “To that end, once the details are finalized for this summer’s concert we will begin developing plans for 2017 and beyond. We wish David the very best as he embarks on this next new chapter of his life.”
In remarks to reporters Wednesday, Lockhart said he is confident the concert will continue to thrive under new leadership. “David has created a tradition that is larger than any of us,” he said.
Mugar said the concert has grown into an “enormously complex event,” that involves 24 separate public safety agencies. He said planning one concert takes up to 1,000 hours of his time, roughly the equivalent of working a full-time job for six months.
“It’s a major commitment and it’s one that I have loved being committed to and working on,” he said. “There’s a great staff around me. They know exactly how the event works, and that has taken a lot of the burden off of me over time.”
Under his leadership, the concert has become a national attraction. Thirty-four percent of its attendees come from outside New England, he said. “A lot of people are planning their vacations around it,” he said.
He said the event team has had to respond to the threat of an attack similar to the 2013 bombing of another cherished civic tradition, the Boston Marathon. “Yes that is a factor,” he said, referring to enhanced security, “and we had to make changes there. But the largest challenge for the event every year is something we can’t do anything in the world about — it’s called the weather.” In 2014, he recalled, organizers made a last-minute decision to hold the concert a day early, due to the advance of Hurricane Arthur, which he called “Arthur Fiedler’s final little visit to the Esplanade.”
Steve MacDonald, who has worked for the production for 40 years, said that over four decades, “the one constant was David Mugar.
“This event wouldn’t have happened without him and his vision for it,” MacDonald said. “His constant effort is to improve the experience for people who come to the Esplanade and those who watch it on TV. He is the Fourth of July concert in Boston.”
Mugar said he intends to remain active in his many business interests and real estate projects. “All that continues,” he said. “I still come to work every day.”
And he still has one concert yet to plan.
“In order for an event like this to be successful, we do need sponsorships,” Mugar said, not about to waste an opportunity to make a public pitch for the 2016 event.