It's a rainy Tuesday morning, but that's not slowing Keith Lockhart down.
The Boston Pops Espalanade Orchestra conductor is as busy as ever, running a few minutes late for our scheduled call because his interview with Boston Herald Radio went past its allotted time.
Though the classic Andy Williams song says this is the most wonderful time of the year, for Lockhart, it's also the busiest time of the year.
He's spending his mornings doing tons of interviews to promote the Holiday Pops series of concerts taking place at Symphony Hall in Boston and venues around New England, including the Dec. 11 date at Lowell Memorial Auditorium.
"Between (Nov. 30) and Dec. 24, which is a span of 25 days, we will do 45 concerts in total," Lockhart says. "Somebody asked what I did in December. I said I only do 41 of those. They looked at me in amazement and said, 'That's more than one a day.' It's a very busy time. It speaks to the demand of what we're offering. We're thrilled so many people want to hear these concerts."
In addition to the 2:30 p.m. show on Dec. 11 in Lowell, the Holiday Pops series includes concerts in Storrs, Conn., on Dec. 3, Worcester on Dec. 9 and Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 10.
"There's a market for our music throughout the region, with satellite communities all around Boston made up of folks who for one reason or another don't want to trek to Symphony Hall. There are plenty of folks who do as well, but over the years, we've developed loyal local followings in Lowell, Worcester and Manchester. The Pops have been going to these places since before I took this job two decades ago. Even with Storrs, Conn., and Providence, we really are one big state. They all think of the Boston Pops as theirs, and it's fun to take the message out of Symphony Hall a bit."
The logistics of running that many shows all over New England in a compressed time frame sounds imposing, but as Lockhart reminds us, "The vast majority of the shows are at Symphony Hall. Those logistics are rather easy. We're there all the time. In the past, we've done more extensive holiday touring to the West Coast. That's more of a military operation than a concert. In the case of a regional concert, the orchestra travels by bus. There are maybe 120 to 130 people on four or five buses. The equipment is mostly trucking larger instruments, sound equipment and stage equipment. Some of it is rented locally, but a lot of it travels with us. When we're done with the concerts, the stage crew is breaking it down and taking it to the next place.
Speaking of seasons, the Holiday Pops shows are, of course, seasonal affairs.
"In all of these concerts, we try to take the audience on a journey. We try as hard as we can to make people think, 'They programmed this concert just for me.' That's hard. People have different expectations. We try to honor as many of those as we can. The program moves from the more serious, more classical, more sacred, to more secular to more just for fun. We have great classical Christmas music, whether it's the 'Hallelujah Chorus,' Respighi or traditional carols. We have a brand new arrangement this year with pieces to show the orchestra, Bach, the Christmas holiday and then move toward the sing-a-long and 'Sleigh Ride,' which is a Boston Pops signature holiday tune for us, along with a visit from a special guy with a big red suit with a very special relationship with the Boston Pops."
Though Symphony Hall is a renowned venue for classical music aficionados, the audience for the Holiday Pops shows is a bit more diverse. "It's very much a family holiday audience. It's more of a great holiday family tradition. They are wonderful concerts for us. We see the widest variety of demographic we see in any concert, certainly in terms of age, from infants to grandparents. We serve as the fireplace they gather metaphorically around and that's a wonderful position to be in."
The spirit of the season comes through in Lockhart's voice when talking about the Holiday Pops concerts. "I do get excited about them. They are really wonderful concerts. I'm proud of what we do. I have to modulate that excitement because I have to keep that over 41 concerts. If I just got to do one, I'd be really excited, but at the end of the day, I love the season, I love the music, I love what music can bring and add to the season. I'm excited to be able to share that. This is one of the times I feel lucky to be able to do what I do."
Bringing the music to the people helps raise the visibility of Boston Pops with audiences who wouldn't otherwise experience it. "It certainly increases exposure. The music takes care of itself, but you have to get them into the hall. For our youngest audience members, it's a great way to hear a live orchestra for the first time."
Lockhart is very much looking forward to coming to Lowell (he asked how retired Sun reporter Nancye Tuttle is doing during the phone interview). "It's a great tradition. We love going to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. We love using that space. We really enjoy it. We recognize repeat customers.
"I would not so much point to the program, which will be wonderful as always, but point to the times we're living and there are times when people need the stability and warmth of the holidays more than ever. I would wager that, for many people, this is one of those years. This is a great time to see what the amazing power of music is and the spirit of the holidays to transform people's lives. If you're feeling your Christmas spirit is at an all-time low, this would be a good time to check us out."