Last month, during the “John Williams’ Film Night” concerts in Boston, Gorka Oteiza had the opportunity to interview conductor Keith Lockhart for SoundTrackFest.
There they talked about his collaboration with John Williams, the “John Williams’ Film Night” concerts, his experience conducting in “Hollywood in Vienna”, his experience bringing film music to Concert Halls and also about the “4th of July – Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular” concert that’s starting tomorrow (Monday 3, official Rehearsal of the July 4 Show, including all guest artists but without fireworks).
Here you have the interview! We hope you like it!
You’ve worked with John Williams on many occasions, and this year, with his 85th birthday celebrations, you’ve conducted many concerts with his music in a special homage program prepared by the Boston Pops (ET, Jaws, Celebrating John Williams!…) …. and you even have a concert in London at the Royal Albert Hall with his music soon!
That’s true, and let me tell you that the concert at Royal Albert Hall is going to be the first film composer specific concert ever at the proms.
Well, that’s fantastic news! So having conducted his music so many times, I suppose you know John Williams’ work quite well. As a conductor, what can you tell us about his music?
I think what makes it appealing as conductor and as a musician is not that people know it and that it is popular. It’s very very good music, that happens to have been written to the movie, in something I have just said to the audience in tonight’s concert: this is music written by a master craftsman who knows exactly how to capture sense of mood, sense of place, and emotion in the most exact possible manner. Also a lot of what one does as a conductor is work with composer’s music, which sometimes does not quite say what you think the composer is trying to say because it’s inadequately expressed, the technique is not adequate. But John always knows exactly how to get the effect he wants to get, which makes your life a lot easier, because if you just do what’s on the page, it will work and that is very gratifying. And of course, it’s been gratifying to have a personal relationship with John that now it’s almost a quarter of a century old. People ask if we’re close. Well, there’s normally only one conductor in town, but he’s always been very warm and very generous.
So you get straight information from him regarding his music and it’s a very close collaboration.
Yes, I can always call him up (*laughs*).
That’s nice! How do you prepare a concert like the one we’re having tonight? Do you rehearse together? Do you exchange information about what to play or the program?
We both know this orchestra pretty well; I’ve been for here longer than he was principal conductor and he’s been associated with the orchestra for 40 years now. Basically, we talked by email and phone about what we were going to do on the program, and after that, well, I had actually previously rehearsed everything that I did tonight. I didn’t rehearse any of this in our rehearsal for this concert, because I had rehearsed them previously. Now I had other things I needed to rehearse so I rehearsed those and John did his portion of the program, a lot of which of course is already familiar to the orchestra as well.
That’s true; many of the pieces we’ve listened tonight have appeared in a fantastic CD that has been released recently called “Lights, Camera…Music! Six Decades of John Williams” that comes from a live recording of one this year’s homage concerts you have conducted.
Yes! I hope you like it. It’s a CD we’re proud of. It has many pieces that haven’t been recorded or played live before. It’s really a good homage to John, and he deserves it.
Last year you conducted “Hollywood in Vienna” concerts in Vienna, Austria (Europe). What can you tell us about your experience there? Do you plan to go back again?
I really enjoyed Hollywood In Vienna, it was my second year doing it. Vienna is a city I kind of grew up a little bit. I spent half of my third year of university in Vienna as a music student, so to get back there in a professional capacity was great. Vienna is such a musical capital for all of us. I really enjoyed both the James Newton Howard and Alexandre Desplat’s shows that I’ve done over this last couple of years. I was sadly unable to make the dates for Hollywood in Vienna this year because of a preexisting Boston Pops conflict, but I’m certainly in touch with them and I’m looking forward to come back as soon as I can. On top of it, everything that has to do with Hollywood in Vienna, Michael and Sandra, and everybody, they’re very very talented. They do a very good job and also the orchestra is excellent so it’s great to play music there. So, yes, I will come back as soon as I’m able to.
As a conductor, do you find differences between conducting classical music or film music like tonight?
No, and expressly not this kind music which is so close to the classical tradition. It’s very much acoustic symphonic music. The only different thing is the associations the audience has with the music; where they saw it. This is music intended for a specific use, the same way ballet and opera scores are intended for a specific use, but you approach it just the way you approach any other piece of music. John’s stuff is not particularly different from classical music; he doesn’t go for many pop stylings. Some of the interesting examples or exceptions are when he does jazzy things, because of course, he was a jazz musician, quite an accomplished jazz musician indeed. He was a pianist and had a band, and occasionally when he lets loose and does a swing tune like 1941’s “Swing Swing Swing” that’s the only time you really have something that’s truly non-classical John Williams.
Lately, film music is having a second life in concert halls: either movie with an orchestra playing the music or just an orchestra playing music by itself in concert. Do you think today’s film music will be the classical music of the future?
I think it will be an element in classical music in the future. I think that classical music has always been helped historically over the years by the addition of new media; for instance, in the beginning of the 17th century with opera and in the middle of the 19th century with the birth of big concert ballets. Those are the things that have always added richness to the repertoire, as opposed to just a lot of pieces that are just designed for a concert use. I think that one of the biggest values that film music has to offer to the classical music industry as a whole is exposure. When you think about it…How many people ever hear a symphony orchestra play Beethoven or Mahler or Stravinsky or Bartok? But how many people hear a symphony orchestra play Star Wars? And for that I’m eternally grateful, as it if wasn’t for that, these days, expressly in the United States with music education being what it is, so few people would be exposed to what an orchestra can do in the hands of somebody how knows to use it.
Is it film music a way to drag people to the concert halls?
It’s at least a way to make people have that sound in their heads, and make them say “that’s an amazing thing”. Because those of us that are musicians, know that the sound of an orchestra in the hands of a master, is one of the most fascinating things.
And now let’s go the final question. Next 4th of July we have “Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular” where you will be conducting the orchestra in a spectacular celebration show. Alan Menken is going to premiere a new work there “The Sum of US”. What can you tell us about that celebration concert? What can people expect to find there?
One of the things is that this year the entire three-hour concert is going to be broadcast worldwide. It will be on Bloomberg Media, on their TV, Web platform, and on the radio as well, so they have a reach of like 400 million households, which is amazing! It’s really a chance for us to show a good side of the American Experience. Alan’s piece came about because, I think my artistic administrator, Dennis said: “we should talk to Alan Menken and see if he would write us a piece for us”. We have creative control on the program now, so we thought it was a good idea. I had never met Alan before but I did the premier concert of “Disney’s Musicals 25th Anniversary on Broadway”, last year with 6.000 people in there and the whole cast of Aladdin, and Alan had been a special guest. So I wrote an email to him and said “Hey, what would you think about doing a new piece for the 4th of July concert?” and he wrote back and said, “Timing might be great and I’d really like to do it”. So we’re premiering a piece by him called “The Sum of US” which actually has to do with the topic that’s on a lot of people’s minds these days, which is about how this country has always been the sum of totals. Its strength has been in the assimilation and not in keeping people out and letting people in. That’s what’s made this country what it is. A lot of us know that and a lot of Europeans know that too, and that’s one of the things that has been a little bit under fire in recent times, so that’s what the piece is about.
Well Keith, that’s all. Thank you very much for taking some time in such a busy concert night. Hope to see you soon in Europe again.
It would be my pleasure!