Free arts offerings abound in Boston. There are free museum days, Berklee hosts free concerts at 20 venues this summer (college.berklee.edu/events/summer), Shakespeare on the Common (“Much Ado About Nothing,” July 20 – Aug. 7).
Then there’s the Boston Pops Firework Spectacular.
The Boston Pops’ signature July 4 concert is so embedded into the fabric of the city that it almost hides in plain sight. But it’s Boston’s biggest free arts offering.
This Independence Day, the Boston Pops and nearly half a million fans will celebrate the orchestra’s return to the stage of the Hatch Shell at the Charles River Esplanade for the first time since 2019.
“This concert has always been expected to take place on the banks of the Charles,” Pops conductor Keith Lockhart told the Herald. “It’s our gift to the people of Boston. It is and always has been a free concert. It also puts the whole city on a national stage as the seat of the Revolution and our democracy.”
“When we do this concert we are more part of a sociological phenomenon than a musical phenomenon,” Lockhart added. “And maybe it’s something I took for granted, so it will be pretty exciting to return.”
As usual, Lockhart balances the program between superstar guests and homegrown talent, patriotic requisites and progressive compositions. This year that means a Stephen Sondheim tribute and a performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Chaka Khan.
Yes, Chaka Khan!
“I grew up listening to Chaka Khan, the soundtrack to my senior prom,” Lockhart said. “It’s very cool.”
Lockhart’s tastes run from disco to Duke Ellington to Antonín Dvořák. That’s part of the reason he’s so good at his job. But as a self-proclaimed “theater geek” in his teens, one of his deepest passions is the work of the late Stephen Sondheim. Lockhart wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass to celebrate Sondheim in front of his biggest audience of the year.
“He was probably the greatest American creative genius alive in my lifetime,” he said of the Broadway maverick.
Tony and Grammy winner Heather Headley will help the Pops with a couple of Sondheim selections. Elsewhere, “The Voice” series premiere winner Javier Colon, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums and the Honor Guard of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment will join the Pops for new works and classics.
As always, Lockhart has crafted a night that caters to multiple tastes.
“This is a concert that has to be omni directional,” he said. “Everyone watches it so that’s a huge age range, background range. In that older Pops tradition, this is a variety show that promises that the next thing up will be something completely different.”
Completely different but back home at the same venue the Pops have played for decades.
The Boston Pops concert will be broadcast live nationally on Bloomberg TV and radio, and locally in Boston on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7), from 8 to 11 p.m. Details at bso.org/pops.