About the Pops Pops Timeline Listen Up! FAQ Broadcast Schedule Program Notes Evening at POPS
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Evening at Pops Header Menu

EVENING AT POPS has graced PBS for 35 years and this year marks another milestone: Keith Lockhart celebrates his 10th anniversary with the Boston Pops Orchestra!


A History of the Orchestra and the Broadcast | Conductors | Guest Artist Archive

History of the EVENING AT POPS Broadcast

One of the longest running programs on PBS, EVENING AT POPS launched shortly after the Public Broadcasting Service began operation in 1969. Hartford Gunn, former managing director of WGBH Boston who became the founding president of PBS, recruited executive producer William Cosel in 1970 to produce 12 programs for the first season of EVENING AT POPS. "The heat was on to include a broad entertainment show, kind of a public television version of a variety show, hosted by a world-class orchestra instead of a pit band," Cosel notes. "We already had a regular taping of EVENING AT POPS for local broadcast, so the skills and preparation for doing the show were well in the works." Conceived as fresh, new programming for summer, the first 12 POPS programs included everyone from country singer Chet Atkins to jazz pianist George Shearing; Senator Edward Kennedy narrating Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait to the New York Rock & Roll Ensemble; and the cast of Sesame Street.

EVENING AT POPS programs are taped before live audiences in Boston's Symphony Hall during special sessions. Each program is then assembled from elements of the taping sessions and other footage such as film clips or segments taped outside the hall. Planning for the POPS programs often begins years in advance, with ideas developing in conversations between Keith Lockhart, John Williams, and the POPS producers, resulting in sheaves of faxes inviting suitable performers to appear. The "courtship" process may take years, but often results in unforgettable programs, such as the notable POPS collaborations with singers k.d. lang and Mandy Patinkin. "What I love the most is figuring out how to visualize the music," says Cosel, "how to make something out of it in television terms. Our frame is the television screen, not the Symphony Hall proscenium." Coordinating producer Susan Dangel adds that "the POPS enables us to see popular performers in a new context."

Arthur Fiedler conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra for 50 years, including during the first decade of the EVENING AT POPS television series, and shaped the Orchestra's personality. During his tenure, Fiedler and his music librarian pored over the light classical repertoire -- works that rarely find their way onto symphony programs -- and compiled an enormous collection of favorite marches, overtures, suites, symphonies, rhapsodies, Broadway show tunes, and novelty songs that soon became familiar to Pops goers. "We play all kinds of music," Fiedler was fond of saying, "except the boring kind."

John Williams assumed the mantle of conductor in 1980, building on Fiedler's musical foundation by introducing Pops audiences to his own musical favorites, including his compositions for such films as the five Star Wars films, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List, and Amistad. "When he joined the Boston Pops Orchestra, the series evolved, and we were much more likely to find contemporary pop and jazz musicians coming to Pops," Cosel observes. Williams began adding new music to the repertoire that had never been there before, much of it from Hollywood and also from the big-band era and the great American songbook.

"In the early days," Cosel says, "the EVENING AT POPS cameras simply recorded whatever was happening at Symphony Hall. In order to get our work done and not disrupt the Pops' revenue, we had to produce during regular concerts, and we had to be very demure about where we put our cameras. The concept of television to Fiedler was exposure; the finesse of television was of no interest to him. Because of his film background, John Williams was much more understanding of the process, of the importance of lighting and of making allowances for the television production. With his help, we added a production stage in front of the Orchestra so we could invite people to do shows with us who never could have joined us before."

Current Pops conductor Keith Lockhart lends a renewed sense of energy to the series. "Keith Lockhart is the same age as young, feisty Arthur Fiedler was when he took on the institution in 1930, and they share a sense of showmanship," Cosel observes. "He also brings a sense of today's various music tastes to the Pops. You put anything in front of him, and he can do it. And it's an advantage that he grew up watching EVENING AT POPS." Adds coordinating producer Susan Dangel, "Keith brings an amazing, versatile energy to the Pops. He's willing to try anything, and he has a great capacity to adapt to a variety of styles."

In EVENING AT POPS' history, the series's guest roster has overflowed with performers whom executive producer William Cosel calls "pieces of the rock -- major interpreters of our cultural and musical heritage": jazz singers Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald; drummer Buddy Rich; dancer Ray Bolger; cabaret singer Bobby Short; jazz trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Wynton Marsalis; singer Sammy Davis Jr.; Broadway stars Carol Channing, Barbara Cook, and Ethel Merman; opera stars Roberta Peters, Robert Merrill, Kathleen Battle, and Dawn Upshaw; country singers Johnny Cash, Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn, and Crystal Gayle; jazz pianists George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, and Marcus Roberts; dancers from Boston Ballet and the Mark Morris Dance Group; pop vocal artists John Denver, Bonnie and John Raitt, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, and k.d. lang; violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman; folk legend Arlo Guthrie; director/choreographer Stanley Donen; even the French Chef herself, Julia Child; and Sesame Street's own Big Bird, to name just a few.


History of the Boston Pops Orchestra

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. Called the "Promenade Concerts" until 1900, they combined light classical music, tunes from the current hits of the musical theater, and an occasional novelty number. Allowing for some changes of taste over the course of a century, the early programs were remarkably similar to the Pops programs of today.

The history of the Boston Pops was for many years linked with the name of Arthur Fiedler, who led the orchestra for 50 years and redefined 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 more than 500,000 people, and this year the orchestra will mark the 73th anniversary of the concert, which 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. Williams stepped down as conductor in December 1993 and now holds the title of laureate conductor. Keith Lockhart became the 20th conductor of the Boston Pops in February 1995, expanding the orchestra's touring with annual trips prior to the Christmas holiday.




Broadcast Schedule | Program Notes | About the Pops | Pops Timeline | Listen Up! | FAQ
Site Map | Credits

Evening at Pops | WGBH Home | PBS Home

© WGBH 2004