Boston Pops Swings to Standing Ovations


Just five minutes shy of six o'clock on Saturday evening, the hum of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra's warm-up barely overpowered the laughter and chatting on the lawn surrounding the Tabernacle. Then the Pops struck the first note of the opening piece without a word of introduction, and the crowd fell silent under conductor Keith Lockhart's spell.

Martha's Vineyard offered Mr. Lockhart and the Pops the kind of welcome that urged the orchestra to deliver two encores and pulled the conductor back to the stage three times to take his bows.

Starting around four o'clock, the crowd began snaking through the entrances to the Camp Ground, weighted down by picnic baskets, chairs and blankets. Bill Cote and John Newsom peddled concert T-shirts and bottled water as the spectators funneled through one of the several entrances.

Many lawn spectators, including Karen Dunleavy, practically transplanted their living rooms onto a patch of grass. With a small table, chairs and a blanket for her daughters Meg and Tay, the Dunleavy family sacrificed no comforts.

"You learn after a few years," she said.

Pops concert regulars had mastered the drill of staking out the perfect spot on the Tabernacle lawns. But those who managed to be caught behind a row of too-tall lawn chairs didn't seem to mind.

"You're not here to see, you're here to listen," Alicia Tonti said, not even trying to peek past the family in front of her.

Many passed the hour and a half of waiting by feasting on cheese platters and fresh fruits. Some younger spectators, like Lilly and Emma Habert and Kathleen Mathus, passed the time with a deck of cards. Their friend, Derek Davies, flipped through a Judy Blume classic on a quest to figure out girls.

"It's a perfect location. There's an opportunity to go roving in Oak Bluffs if it gets too boring for them," said Jack Davies, Derek's dad.

With the hazy sky sending mixed messages, people kept ponchos and umbrellas close at hand. Lynne Williams, with a cowboy hat perched on her head, seemed to have the best approach to shielding possible raindrops.

"If it starts raining, I brought a hat for cover," she said with a laugh.

Mr. Lockhart articulated the weather anxiety best when he said, "I was a little worried this morning when I heard the rain threaten to blow my house down."

But the sky waited patiently for the Pops to finish before shedding any more drops.

"The weather gods were good to us," said Robert Cleasby, program director for the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association.

The evening air proved perfect for a bit of snuggling out in the grass area, particularly during slower, swooning numbers like Oblivion and a waltz medley.

Keith Lockhart served the Vineyard a taste of the orchestra's coming domestic tour. Presenting a lively repertoire of classical Latin arrangements, tangos and popular salsas, Mr. Lockhart brought the orchestra right back to America's top 40s with Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loca. Parents and children alike bobbed their heads with delight, mouthing the words to the teen idol's popular Latin number.

Four-year-old Erin Hickey showed off her drumming skills for her family and surrounding spectators. Luckily, Mr. Lockhart kept the orchestra in time while the young air drummer freestyled.

When Mr. Lockhart and the orchestra returned to the stage for the second half of the concert, fans could not hide their delight when the Pops launched a series of America's classics. The span of genres and decades assured everyone would hear at least one favorite.

The Overture to Phantom of the Opera never sounded so sweet, as Mr. Lockhart glided across the stage, leading the orchestra through the emotional swells of Webber's masterpiece.

When the orchestra highlighted feature songs from the International Film Festival, adults whispered a brief narrative of Lawrence of Arabia to the younger listeners. But the main title to Star Wars needed no explanation. Young and old nodded in time to the familiar tune.

Renditions of the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby and Paul Simon's Cecilia returned listeners to a place they'd been before by way of a different route. Fifty-somethings closed their eyes and filled in the words, and the orchestra accompanied.

Keith Lockhart said good night and thanked the audience before the Paul Simon tribute.

"We've really enjoyed our five or six hours here," he said with a laugh, knowing the buses waited for their quick exit in order to catch the ferry before 9 o'clock.

When the orchestra rose to acknowledge the standing ovation, they knew the audience wanted more. And the Pops delivered.

Handfuls of lawn spectators jumped to their feet to wiggle and twist to a familiar Big Band number, Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. The rows of the brass section stood and twisted from side to side, pointing their horns to the sky. Mr. Lockhart stepped from the conductor's stand while featured drummer Fred Buda cut loose with an energetic solo. The audience catcalled its support.

At the end of this jazzy number, the fans were yet to be satisfied. The relentless applause begged the orchestra for more. Once again, they delivered.

During a spirited presentation of Stars and Stripes Forever, Mr. Lockhart abandoned the orchestra to direct the audience in clapping along. To up the patriotic ante, a lone man, an American flag strapped to his back, ran the perimeter of the Tabernacle. The lawn guests cheered the flag runner to the finish line. Patrons sitting under the Tabernacle only noticed "the stars and stripes on the run" when Mr. Lockhart nodded in his direction.

The audience stood to salute, not the flag, but the Boston Esplanade Orchestra at the conclusion of the second encore. The orchestra soaked up the praise, and during Mr. Lockhart's last return to the stage, he clasped his heart and took a deep bow.

Mr. Cleasby captured the perfection of the night best.

"It's the magic of the music. It's the beauty of the landscape. It's the ambience of Martha's Vineyard," he said.