A new era for Independence Day concert on the Esplanade
The Boston Pops said Monday that it has agreed to take over the annual July Fourth fireworks concert on the Esplanade, ensuring that the four-decade tradition will continue uninterrupted after the retirement of longtime producer David Mugar.
The move by the Pops ends the uncertainty surrounding the city’s beloved Independence Day event since Mugar, 77, said in December that the 2016 show would be his last.
The Pops assumes responsibility for putting on the show from Mugar’s Boston 4 Productions, which has handled the job for the past 43 years. The organization also will be on the hook for finding a corporate sponsor, which underwrites the concert so it can be free to the public. Mugar could not find one for the 2016 event, forcing the Boston philanthropist to foot the $2 million bill himself.
The Pops has been part of the celebration from the beginning. The relationship started when Mugar suggested that then-Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler play Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” during an Esplanade concert, while Mugar added fireworks, howitzer cannons, and church bells.
A tradition was born in 1974, and now the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular draws about 500,000 spectators to the banks of the Charles River.
“It’s a natural fit,” Mugar said in an interview. “It’s a signature event — and it belongs to the Pops.”
Keith Lockhart, the Pops conductor who has presided over 22 fireworks concerts, described the move as a “logical succession.”
Lockhart also wanted to assure the public that the future of the celebration is secure. “We at the Pops are fully committed to this being a signature event,” he said in an interview.
While the Pops will remain the centerpiece of the Fourth of July celebration, Lockhart anticipated that some things may be done differently.
“It’s reasonable to expect changes,” he said. The Pops “have been at the table for years. Now we will be setting the table.”
Finding sponsors has been a challenge, as companies shift their marketing dollars away from one-day events. Lockhart said the Pops has already started conversations with potential underwriters.
“Obviously, money is tight everywhere. Some events have gone wanting for a corporate sponsorship,” Lockhart said. “We are having positive talks with several companies right now. We hope to have a confirmed sponsorship later this fall.”
Lockhart would not disclose the names of those companies and said it was too early to say if there would be a single sponsor or multiple ones.
If the Pops failed to find an underwriter, would it still put on a show regardless of the amount of sponsorship dollars raised?
“We are committed to the show going on. I hesitate to speculate on that,” added Lockhart, who did not want to leave the impression corporate support was optional.
Still, Lockhart said he is “very confident” the Pops will succeed in attracting underwriters and that the show will live on, especially with the support of Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. The Pops’s press release included statements from the governor and mayor, who lauded Mugar’s leadership and welcomed the Pops’s new role.
Together, Lockhart said, “we will breach all the hurdles.”
The Boston insurer Liberty Mutual sponsored the show for a decade until 2015.
The Globe has reported that Steve Wynn, who is building a $2.1 billion casino in Everett, has expressed interest in funding the fireworks concert. Wynn has had a relationship with the Pops since 2013 as a sponsor of the Company Christmas gala, which benefits artistic and educational programs.
For Mugar, a businessman whose father helped build the Star Market supermarket empire, the fireworks celebration has been a labor of love, but last year he decided it was time to pass the baton to another generation.
No one stepped forward, but late this spring Mugar began to look at someone right under his nose: the Pops. The group has played an integral part, with its music serving as the glue that holds the program together.
Mugar began discussions with Kim Noltemy, the chief operating and communications officer of Boston Symphony Orchestra Inc., the nonprofit umbrella organization that supports the Pops, the BSO, Symphony Hall, and Tanglewood.
After Mugar took his final bow on July 4, he met with Noltemy and Mark Volpe, managing director of BSO Inc. On July 5, they had a handshake agreement that the Pops would take the reins of a Boston tradition.
No money is changing hands, but in assuming the management of Mugar’s production company, the two executive producers, Pam Picard and Rich MacDonald, would become employees of the BSO.
The board of the BSO approved the arrangement on Friday.
Mugar will take on an advisory role. His biggest tip?
“If you want the job to be a lot easier,” he said, “Pray for a sunny day.”