|In 1881, Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra, wrote of his wish to present in Boston "concerts of a
lighter kind of music." The first Boston Pops concert in 1885 represented the
fulfillment of his dream.
In 1972 Leroy Anderson reviewed the musical history of the Boston Pops from his then
perspective of 48 years of hearing Boston Pops concerts, including those with Alfredo
Cassella, Fiedler's predecesor. He was quick to credit Fiedler for the tremendous growth
in the Boston Pops appeal. "Before he arrived, nothing was played that had been
written after the turn of the century - it was mostly a matter of Rossini overtures and
things of that nature. Fiedler came in and started to play pop tunes. He had a problem
getting material, because these things were simply not written for symphony orchestra. But
he started varying the programs enormously, playing Gershwin instead, and show tunes. And
when I came along with my things, they were exactly what he wanted.
"He went into lighter things - but he also went into heavier material as well. For
years, the Pops had never played a full concerto; it was regarded as just too long. But
now Fiedler insists on it. We were down in Miami Beach a couple of years ago and he
scheduled a Mozart piano concerto. The audience sat attentively through the whole thing.
In the old days you might have thrown in the first movement of the Grieg concerto, or
something like that, but here they were with Mozart."
"Of course, he finished up the whole concert with a Beatles tune, and the Theme from
'Exodus,' and 'The Stars and Stripes Forever,' and the audience really whooped it up then
... but they'd loved all of it. It's less that he's made Pops heavier or lighter than that
he's stretched it, in all directions. There's this greater variety: when Fiedler gets
through, everybody goes home happy, because everybody's found something to enjoy,"
Arthur Fiedler led the orchestra for 50 years and defined its role in popular American
culture. Included in that legacy was the start of the Pops' proud and illustrious
recording history, the introduction of the orchestra to a nationwide television audience
through the PBS series Evening at Pops, and the creation of the orchestra's free outdoor
Esplanade Concerts, which took place on the banks of the Charles River. First held in
1929, the free concerts are more popular now than ever; the Boston Pops July 4th
celebration in 1998 drew a record crowd of over 500,000 people and it now stands as a
national Independence Day tradition.
Following Fiedler's death in July 1979, Boston Pops Associate Conductor Harry Ellis
Dickson and a number of guest conductors led the orchestra until John Williams was
appointed conductor in January 1980. Mr. Williams stepped down as conductor in December
1993 and now holds the title of laureate conductor. Keith Lockhart became the twentieth
conductor of the Boston Pops in February 1995, expanding the orchestra's touring with
annual trips prior to the Christmas holiday.