It’s Keith Lockhart’s 25th anniversary with the Boston Pops, and the orchestra is all set for a grand celebration at Symphony Hall with its spring season.
Broadway stars Megan Hilty and Jason Danieley will team up for a retrospective program featuring Lockhart’s favorite American composer, George Gershwin (June 2-4). The orchestra and a to-be-announced cast will premiere a new concert version of the musical “Ragtime” created in honor of the occasion (May 21 & 22). And before the guest stars of the day take the stage, audiences will be treated to some of Lockhart’s favorite music.
What will they hear, precisely? “When I program them, I’ll tell you,” Lockhart laughed over the phone.
But he has some ideas. “We are first and foremost a great orchestra, dedicated to playing music that was written for orchestra,” he said. He intends to draw from all over the map. Expect the splashy classical favorites that were Arthur Fiedler’s bread and butter; pieces that Lockhart has commissioned for the Pops in his time here, including Dan Welcher’s fizzy overture “Spumante” and some arrangements of non-classical tunes.
The lineup of special guests also calls back to the earlier days of Lockhart’s tenure. The spring season opens Vegas-style with magical comedians Penn and Teller (May 6 & 7), who made their Pops debut during Lockhart’s first season. Up next is Boston-brewed rock band Guster, which debuted with the Pops in 2005. (May 8 & 9). Later in the season, Lockhart shares the stage with singer/songwriter/performance artist Amanda Palmer (raised in Lexington, and another veteran Pops guest star) and her husband, “American Gods” author Neil Gaiman, for an evening of stories, poems, and new orchestral arrangements of her songs (June 11 & 12).
Looking back on 25 years, Lockhart sees his musical tastes as having widened as the pressure of the position let up. “When you’re 35 and replacing a legend [John Williams], your first instinct is to make sure everybody can tell immediately that it’s you there and not your predecessor,” he said. “I’ve changed with the times, but the goal remains the same — to make it an institution that brings great music to a lot of different people.”
Conducting takes more of a physical toll than in the past, he admitted, but the conductor has settled into a mental rhythm that helps lighten the load. “I used to look at a season and think ‘how are we ever going to get from one end of it to the other, with so many different things, so much repertoire, so much learning?’” he said. “I think it’s just a matter of survival after a while. Because if I put as much into every concert as I did when I was 35, I don’t think I’d still be on the podium.”
The Pops’ tradition of film screenings with live music continues with a feature presentation of “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (May 13, 14, 16 & 23). Other returning traditions include Film Night, which this year features Danny Elfman’s music for Tim Burton’s films, conducted by Ted Sperling (June 5 & 6); Gospel Night, to be conducted by Charles Floyd with special guest singer Smokie Norful (June 13); and “Presidents at Pops” with Lockhart and special guest Sting (June 9).
Other season offerings with Lockhart include a celebration of American song through the ages with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and special guest Jon Meacham (May 19-20), and favorites by the prolific Disney composer Alan Menken (May 27, 28 & 30.)
Tickets go on sale Feb. 27 at noon.
Symphony Hall. May 6 - June 13. 888-266-1200, www.bostonpops.org