Boston Pops Orchestra

The Boston Pops Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts that specializes in playing light classical and popular music.

Boston Pops Orchestra
Short nameBoston Pops
Founded1885 (1885)
LocationBoston, United States
Concert hallSymphony Hall
Principal conductorKeith Lockhart

The Boston Pops was founded in 1885 as a second, popular identity of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), founded four years earlier. Consisting primarily of musicians from the BSO, although generally not all of the first-chair players,[1] the orchestra performs a Spring season of popular music and a holiday program in December, the BSO schedule on break at those times. For the Pops, the seating on the floor of Symphony Hall is reconfigured from auditorium seating to banquet/cafe seating. In addition, the Pops also plays an annual concert at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade every Fourth of July. Their performance of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is famous for the unfurling of the American flag that occurs as the song enters its final moments. Identified with its long-time director Arthur Fiedler, in the past the orchestra has recorded extensively, made frequent tours, and appeared regularly on television. The Pops Spring and Holiday seasons allowed the BSO to become one of the first American orchestras to provide year-round employment for its musicians.

The current Music Director of the Boston Pops Orchestra is Keith Lockhart.


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 Boston Pops Orchestra was founded to present this kind of music to the public, with the first concert performed in 1885. Called the "Promenade Concerts" until 1900, these performances 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 Boston Pops programs of today.

The Boston Pops Orchestra had seventeen conductors before 1930, when Arthur Fiedler began a fifty-year tenure as the Pops conductor. Under Fiedler's direction, the orchestra's popularity spread far beyond the city of Boston through recordings, radio and television. Unhappy with the reputation of classical music as being solely for affluent concertgoers, Fiedler made efforts to bring classical music to a wider audience. He instituted a series of free concerts at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, a public park beside the Charles River. Fiedler insisted that the Pops Orchestra play popular music as well as well-known classical pieces, opening up a new niche of popular symphonic music. Of the many musical pieces created for the orchestra, the Pops' most identifiable works were the colorful novelty numbers composed by Fiedler's close friend Leroy Anderson, including "Sleigh Ride", "The Typewriter", "The Syncopated Clock" and several others. Fiedler also initiated what has become a Boston tradition, and keeps growing as the years go by, which is the annual "Holiday Pops" concerts the Boston Pops give every December.

Under Fiedler's direction, the Boston Pops sold more commercial recordings than any other orchestra in the world, with total sales of albums, singles, tapes, and cassettes exceeding $50 million. The orchestra's first recordings were made in July 1935 for RCA Victor, including the first complete recording of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The Pops made their first high-fidelity recording on June 20, 1947, of Gaîté Parisienne (based on the music of Jacques Offenbach), and recorded the same music seven years later in stereophonic sound, their first venture in multitrack recording.

Fiedler is also credited with having begun the annual tradition of the Fourth of July Pops concert and fireworks display on the Esplanade, one of the best-attended Independence Day celebrations in the country with estimated crowds of 200,000–500,000 people. Also during Fiedler's tenure, the Pops and local public television station WGBH developed a series of weekly televised broadcasts recorded during the Pops' regular season in Symphony Hall, Evening at Pops.

The list of artist-performers during this period includes world-class soloists and contains some historic and legendary names who performed on the many Boston Pops tours that went to hundreds of cities across the country throughout the 1950s through the 1970s. Some shows have holiday–oriented themes, such as Christmas shows featuring performers such as Jonathan Meath, who appeared as Santa with the Boston Pops for ten shows during 2008–2009.[2]

After Fiedler's death in 1979, he was succeeded as conductor of the Boston Pops by the noted film composer John Williams. Williams continued the Pops' tradition of bringing classical music to a wider audience, initiating the annual "Pops-on-the-Heights" concerts at Boston College and adding his own library of well-known film scores (including Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to the orchestra's repertoire. During his time with the Pops, Williams had the honor of performing with Sammy Davis, Jr. as one of the artists for one of the Evening at Pops specials that aired on 1988. In 1991, the orchestra played Bill Monroe's Uncle Pen and other bluegrass classics with Ricky Skaggs and the Kentucky Thunder.[3][4]

Keith Lockhart assumed the post of principal Pops conductor in 1995. Lockhart continues to conduct the Boston Pops today. Williams remains the Laureate Conductor of the Pops and conducts a week of Pops concerts every year, two nights at Symphony Hall each spring and two nights at the Ozawa Hall in Tanglewood each summer.

Guest artists

Lockhart has brought in numerous pop-music acts and icons in addition to Broadway greats to play with the orchestra since being named conductor, including Ben Folds, Rockapella, Guster, My Morning Jacket, Aimee Mann, Kelly Clarkson, and Elvis Costello.

Spring season

Glee star Matthew Morrison performed with the orchestra as did Frank Sinatra impersonator Steve Lippia during the 2012 Pops Spring Season.

During the 2014 Pops Spring Season, the orchestra worked with Jason Alexander (who opened the season that year), Warren Haynes in a "Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration," the debut of "Cirque de la Symphonie" featuring Cirque du Soleil performers, Billy Porter, Leonard Nimoy, The Hot Sardines, Jennifer Holliday and Melissa Etheridge. During the 2014 spring season, the orchestra also introduced the "Film with Orchestra" series beginning with The Wizard of Oz.

During the 2015 Pops Spring Season, the orchestra worked with Bernadette Peters (who opened the spring season that year), The Midtown Men, and Audra McDonald. In 2015, the film that was chosen for the "Film with Orchestra" series was Singin' In The Rain. The orchestra also had tributes throughout the season: two nights of the orchestra playing the music of The Beatles; the ever-popular "John Williams Film Night"; a Celtic sojourn hosted by Brian O'Donnovan with Carlos Núñez and Karan Casey as the special guests; the ever-popular "Gospel Night at Pops" conducted by Charles Floyd featuring The Blind Boys of Alabama; the return of "Cirque de la Symphonie" featuring Cirque du Soleil performers; and ending with Simply Sondheim, featuring Marin Mazzie, Jason Danieley and the Tanglewood Music Center Fellows as special guests.

During the 2017 Pops Spring Season, the orchestra had its first season-long tribute to a composer, that composer being John Williams. They recorded a new CD, Lights, Camera, Music: Six Decades of John Williams, which was released during the season. The orchestra had two pre-season events which marked the first time the orchestra had ever used Symphony Hall before May: "Celebrating John Williams!" and "E.T. in Concert." The Pops opened the season with Queen Latifah, and went on to host such events as "Mamma Mia! Mother's Day with the Music of ABBA," working with Ben Folds, "Gospel Night" in its 25th anniversary with Floyd and the Boston Pops Gospel Choir; Leslie Odom, Jr. in his orchestral debut after starring in Hamilton: An American Musical; performing a tribute to The Beatles with Larry "Cha-Chi" Loprete as the host; "Parting with The B-52s," and giving the world premiere of Sondheim on Sondheim with Philip Boykin, Carmen Cusak, Gabriel Ebert, and Lisa Howard as the vocalists.

During the 2018 Pops Spring season, the orchestra worked with both Leslie Odom, Jr. and Andy Grammar (who opened the spring season that year) for the second time, as well as Sutton Foster again, who performed "A Broadway Celebration" with the orchestra. Some highlights of the season were the return of Laureate Conductor and legendary film composer John Williams for his annual "Film Night" appearances, in addition to an Opening Night salute to Leonard Bernstein for the occasion of Bernstein's centennial later that year. In addition to celebrating Bernstein's centennial, the orchestra presented concert versions of both On The Town and "West Side Story In Concert". They "Danced to the Movies," and were joined by tenor Alfie Boe who "Rocked the Pops" with them. The Pops were joined by Ashely Brown, Josh Strickland, Alton Fitzgerald White and Merle Dandridge to perform beloved songs from 9 Tony Award-winning and Academy Award-winning scores to "Disney's Broadway Hits." The orchestra also performed "The Best of the Boston Pops" Concerts, a series that hadn't been featured since 2013. The Pops performed their annual "Gospel Night" with the Boston Pops Gospel Choir and guest star Melinda Doolittle under the direction of Charles Floyd. The orchestra also welcomed back Leslie Odom, Jr. with special guests Renee Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo for "An Evening with Leslie Odom, Jr."

Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

For the 2002 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Maureen McGovern, who paid tribute to the centennial of legendary and iconic Broadway composer Richard Rodgers by performing "My Favorite Things" (from The Sound of Music), and Barry Manilow, who paid tribute to and acknowledged the September 11 attacks when performing his 1976 hit "Weekend in New England".

For the 2005 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Big and Rich (who performed their hit "Love Train"), Gretchen Wilson, and Cowboy Troy (who performed with Big and Rich for a new rendition of the Declaration of Independence), and highlighted their newest CD America by performing "The Star-Spangled Banner", "Armed Forces Salute", "This Is My Country", "The Gettysburg Address" (narrated by then-WBZ-TV news anchor Jack Williams), "Doodletown Fifers" (performed with the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums), "God Bless America", "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", the "Main Title" (from Star Wars), Tchaikovsky's famous "1812 Overture", and John Philip Sousa's classic march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

For the 2006 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Aerosmith, who performed "Dream On" and "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing."

For the 2008 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Rascal Flatts, who performed "Life Is A Highway" and "Every Day."

For the 2009 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Neil Diamond, who performed "Sweet Caroline", "Forever in Blue Jeans", "Cracklin' Rosie", and "America".

During the 2010 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra celebrated its 125th season and the Hatch Shell celebrated its 100th anniversary. The orchestra performed with Toby Keith, who performed "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" and "American Soldier". They also performed with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Renese King (who sang "We the People" (the theme song for Visions of America), and they performed "The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers", with Lisa Hughes, Jack Williams, Jeremiah Kissel and Will LeBow. The Pops specifically commissioned the piece by Peter Boyer and Lynn Ahrens to be used during their 125th season.

For the 2014 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra performed with Julia Udine and Ben Jacoby from the 2014 U.S. touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, and The Beach Boys, who performed "Fun, Fun, Fun", "Good Vibrations", and "Surfin' USA".

For the 2015 Fireworks Spectacular, Lockhart and the Pops performed with Michael Cavanaugh who sang some of Billy Joel's classic songs, the Boston-based band Sons of Serendip, and members of the United States Show Troupe.

For the 2016 Fireworks Spectacular, Lockhart and the Pops performed with pop stars Demi Lovato, Nick Jonas (both performing on their joint world tour the FutureNow Tour), and Grammy- and CMA-winning country music stars Little Big Town. The 2016 Fireworks Spectacular also marked David Mugar's final Fireworks Spectacular show, which he produced for over 40 years.

In October 2016, the Boston Pops agreed to take over the management of the annual July Fourth fireworks concert on the Esplanade and to take on the responsibility for finding a corporate sponsor for the $2 million cost.[5] On March 7, 2017, it was announced that Eaton Vance and Bloomberg L.P. had been signed on as sponsors of the concert under a three-year deal, and that the telecast of the event would move from WBZ-TV/CBS to Bloomberg Television.[6][7]

For the 2017 Fireworks Spectacular, Lockhart and the Pops performed with actor Leslie Odom Jr. (of Hamilton: An American Musical fame), 1990s pop singer Melissa Etheridge, and pop singer Andy Grammer, in addition to the United States Army Soldier's Chorus.

For the 2018 Fireworks Spectacular, the orchestra worked with Rachel Platten, Rhiannon Giddens, the Indigo Girls, actresses Rita Moreno and Natalie Cortez (who was about to open in the ensemble in the world premiere of Moulin Rouge!, which debuted in Boston in October 2018 and later debuted on Broadway in 2019), and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus under the direction of James Burton. In addition to Bloomberg nationwide, the show was carried by independent station WHDH (channel 7) locally over-the-air,[8] and online at,, (the Boston Symphony Orchestra's website), and on the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular app.

For the 2019 Fireworks Spectacular, Lockhart and the Pops paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of Woodstock by performing both a medley of the Theme and "Pinball Wizard" from The Who's Tommy! and a medley of "Aquarius" and "The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In)" from Hair. Lockhart and the Pops also performed with Queen Latifah, folk legend Arlo Guthrie (who paid tribute to his father Woody Guthrie by performing "This Land Is Your Land"), poet Amanda Gorman, two acts from America's Got Talent, The Texas Tenors and Amanda Mena, and the United States Navy Sea Chanters Chorus.

Holiday Pops

Beginning in December 1973, Arthur Fiedler and the Pops started a yearly seasonal tradition at Symphony Hall, which after a few years, became a staple of winter in Boston——their Christmas concerts, which became known regionally and locally as Holiday Pops.

Once Fiedler died in 1979, John Williams continued the tradition as conductor from 1980 until 1993. After two years of guest conductors while the BSO were interviewing their next permanent conductor, Keith Lockhart led his first Holiday Pops concert in December 1995. In addition to performing approximately between 40-42 each December, the Pops also began performing on New Year's Eve during Lockhart's tenure.

The Holiday Pops 2014 season ran from Wednesday, December 3, 2014 through Wednesday, December 24, 2014, with a movie shown Friday and Saturday, December 26–27, 2014, and the New Year's Eve concert happening on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.

2014 was the year that the Pops began showing popular Christmas movies after their 40- or 42-concert season was over. The first movie chosen was Home Alone. The score, written by the laureate conductor Williams, was performed live by the orchestra, accompanying the film. The New Year's Eve concert was performed by the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra, led by bandleader Bo Winiker.

The Holiday Pops 2016 season ran from Wednesday, November 30, 2016 through Saturday, December 24, 2016, with a movie shown Friday and Saturday, December 30–31, 2016, and the New Year's Eve concert happening on Saturday, December 31, 2016.

The second movie chosen was Back To The Future. The score, written by Alan Silverstri, was once again performed live by the orchestra, in sync with the film. The New Year's Eve concert was performed by the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra, once again led by bandleader Bo Winiker.

2016 was significant because John Oliver, longtime conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus had retired. The BSO had chosen James Burton to replace him, and he would begin conducting the chorus in 2017.

The Holiday Pops 2017 season ran from Tuesday, December 5, 2017 through Sunday, December 24, 2017, with the New Year's Eve concert happening on Sunday, December 31, 2017. There was no movie chosen for that year. 2017 was significant because John Oliver, longtime conductor of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus had retired.

The New Year's Eve concert was performed by the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra.

The Holiday Pops 2018 season ran from Thursday, December 6, 2018 through Monday, December 24, 2018, with a movie shown Saturday and Sunday, December 29–30, 2018, and the New Year's Eve concert happening on Monday, December 31, 2018.

The third movie chosen was Home Alone once again. Billed as Home Alone In Concert, the score, written by Williams, was once more performed live by the orchestra, accompanying the film. The New Year's Eve concert was performed by the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra and special guest Seth MacFarlane.

The Holiday Pops 2019 season ran from Wednesday, December 4, 2019 through Tuesday, December 24, 2019, with a movie shown Saturday and Sunday, December 28–29, 2019, and the New Year's Eve concert happening on Tuesday, December 31, 2019.

The fourth movie chosen was Bugs Bunny At The Symphony. The score, written by Carl Stalling, was performed live by the orchestra, accompanying the film. The New Year's Eve concert was performed by the Boston Pops Swing Orchestra and special guest The Hot Sardines.

The Pops introduced a sensory-friendly concert for the first time on Saturday, December 7, 2019. The concert was designed and aimed at all families with children or adults diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or sensory sensitivities.


POPSearch is the Boston Pops' nationwide talent competition that offers amateur singers the chance to perform with the orchestra at Boston's Fourth of July Extravaganza, as well as on the orchestra's national tour. The winner also receives a cash prize. The American Idol–style competition has expanded into a nationwide contest through video submissions on YouTube and voting through

Tracy Silva, a mother of two from Taunton, Mass., and van driver for special needs children, won the inaugural POPSearch contest in 2004.

Frances Botelho-Hoeg, an elementary school principal from Kingston, Massachusetts, was knocked out in the second round of the inaugural POPSearch, but returned in 2005 to sweep the competition.

The POPSearch 2007 grand champion Maria Perry won $5,000 and performed with the Boston Pops on July 3 and 4 in the annual July 4 Extravaganza seen by a live audience of almost a half-million people on the Charles River Esplanade and several million more on WBZ-TV.

High School Sing-Off

In the early spring of 2008, Keith Lockhart announced the "Boston Pops High School Sing-Off--A Best of Broadway Challenge," the first-ever Boston Pops musical theater competition for Massachusetts high school students. Students from high schools throughout Massachusetts were encouraged to submit audition videos of musical theater vocal works for solo, duet, trio, quartet, or quintet to the Boston Pops before May 9, 2008. The winner was featured in the Fourth of July concert on the Esplanade.

Music directors and conductors

See also


  1. BSO Opening Night Program Guide, 2011, pp. 18-19; Boston Pops Holiday Program Guide 2011, p. 15.
  2. Edward B. Colby (December 3, 2009). "Town in the spirit: Dedham Square to be filled with song, shopping". Dedham Transcript. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2010.
  3. David Powell (November 21, 2007). "Ricky Skaggs and the Boston Pops: "Uncle Pen"" via YouTube.
  4. David Powell (November 20, 2007). "Ricky Skaggs and the Boston Pops: "Highway 40 Blues"" via YouTube.
  5. Leung, Shirley (October 3, 2016). "A new era for Independence Day concert on the Esplanade". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  6. "Vance, Bloomberg new forces for Fourth of July concert". Boston Herald. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  7. "How to watch, stream, or listen to the 2017 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular". July 3, 2017. Retrieved July 3, 2017.
  8. "7News partners with Bloomberg TV to air 2018 Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular". WHDH. June 21, 2018. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
  9. Midgette, Anne (April 2, 2003). "Harry Ellis Dickson, 94, Violinist and Conductor in Boston". The New York Times.
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