Queen Latifah, Leslie Odom Jr., and a John Williams tribute highlight Pops season

 The Boston Pops’ spring schedule will double as a prolonged paean to the illustrious body of work of composer and conductor John Williams.
The Boston Pops’ spring schedule will double as a prolonged paean to the illustrious body of work of composer and conductor John Williams.

When Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart learned that this upcoming year would mark the 85th birthday of legendary film composer and Pops conductor laureate John Williams, he knew it was time to pay his predecessor proper tribute.

And so it is that the 2017 Pops spring schedule, a bustling assortment of artistic genres and performers — including Queen Latifah and “Hamilton” star Leslie Odom Jr. — will double as a prolonged paean to Williams’s illustrious body of work, from film presentations of “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” (May 12-13) and “Jaws” (May 25-26) with live orchestra accompaniment, to pre-season concerts containing excerpts from less recognized films such as “The Towering Inferno” and “Goodbye, Mr Chips” (April 7-8).

“It’s a retrospective of his work, his career, and the hundreds of thousands of minutes he’s written that mean so much to so many people,” said Lockhart by phone from Tampa, where he and the Pops were performing.


Eleven concerts in the season will be wholly dedicated to highlighting Williams’s six decades composing for film. In addition, the composer himself will join two Film Nights (May 31 and June 1), leading the Pops in performing some of his most recent scores, including his work for “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.”

Williams created the musical score for the 1982 film “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.”
Williams created the musical score for the 1982 film “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.”

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Few musicians are as pivotal to the Pops as Williams, who served as its conductor from 1983 to 1995 and still leads the orchestra several times a year. But for Lockhart, the chance to honor Williams signified an opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable career he’s had beyond the orchestra.

“It’s just stunning when you look at the hundred-odd films he’s scored, and the incredible variety of expression that’s contained within them,” he said.

Though Lockhart is thrilled to be throwing what he calls a “birthday party” for Williams, other highlights of the season have him equally enthused.

To kick off the spring slate, Grammy Award-winning singer Queen Latifah will make her debut with the orchestra May 10-11. In another Pops debut, Odom, who won a 2016 Tony Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” will perform music from that hit musical along with tracks from his self-titled album on June 6.


Elsewhere, the season is brimming with eclectic influences and inflections. Conductor Steve Hackman will bring “The Beatles & Beyond” (June 8-11), which contains fused arrangements of music by pop greats and classical icons (think “Björk vs. Bartók”), to Boston. Returning guests include ABBA tribute show Arrival from Sweden (May 14-15), singer-songwriter Ben Folds (May 17-18), Cirque de la Symphonie (June 2-3), the B-52s (June 13-14), and conductor-pianist-composer Charles Floyd, who’ll lead the Pops’ 25th annual Gospel Night with a still-to-be-announced special guest (June 17).

The diversity of the spring season speaks to an enduring truth about the Pops, according to Lockhart. “Over our 130 years, one way or another, we’ve tried to present the most wide-angle-lens view of what great music is,” he said. “We have rock ’n’ roll and ’80s pop — but we also have significant Broadway.”

Indeed, few events excite Lockhart more than the season’s grand finale: the world premiere of the orchestral version of “Sondheim on Sondheim” (June 15-16).

“It’s this amazing look at the work of the living, reigning genius of the American musical theater,” he said. “That’s very important this year.”

Lockhart in part attributes the Pops’ ability to spread its arms wide across musical genres to the creative license the orchestra has been granted from increasingly open-minded fans. And he hopes music aficionados beyond the BSO’s built-in audience will find their way to a Pops performance this spring.


“It’s a great place for people who don’t think of themselves first and foremost as classical music fans,” Lockhart said. “It’s for people who are just culturally curious — who really want to hear something innovative and different.”

Boston Pops tickets go on sale Feb. 13; 888-266-1200,

Isaac Feldberg can be reached at, or on Twitter at @i_feldberg.