School of Music announces guest conductor

After much hype, the School of Music has revealed the identity of the celebrity conductor who will conduct the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic’s Jan. 30 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Keith Lockhart, Carnegie Mellon alumnus and conductor of the Boston Pops and Utah Symphony, will conduct the performance.

Lockhart has chosen Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, a venerable warhorse in the repertory, for the second half of the program. The first half will feature longtime faculty member and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Andrés Cárdenes in a work yet to be chosen.

Lockhart feels that the Mahler symphony will be a great opportunity for the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic to show off to New York audiences.

“It’s a great showcase piece for what I understand has turned into a really fine collegiate ensemble,” Lockhart said. “And I have a personal, huge love of Mahler. He did something with the symphonic world nobody before or after ever did.”

Indeed, Lockhart has been immersed in Mahler’s massive symphonic world for much of his career. He will finish off a Mahler cycle at the Utah Symphony with the ninth symphony at the end of this season, his last as that orchestra’s music director.

Lockhart actually first conducted a Mahler symphony, the fourth, with the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic in 1987. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a master’s in conducting in 1983, Lockhart conducted the orchestra for several seasons on an interim basis. The Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic was “my orchestra,” he said, remembering “committed students and great music making.”

He left Pittsburgh in 1990 to conduct in Cincinnati and has been back rarely, though he’s excited to return and see his former colleagues. “Pittsburgh was my musical home basically all of the ’80s,” he said. Lockhart lived in Friendship, a community between Highland Park and Shadyside, before buying and renovating a house in Highland Park in 1985 — “I had an interesting five years of doing rehearsal and then running home to put drywall up.”

Lockhart is as immersed in classical conducting as he is in conducting pops. Lockhart has had odd musical experiences from being heavily involved in both worlds.

“Sometimes it’s a little weird,” he said. “I’ve finished a series of [Bartók’s] Bluebeard’s Castles in Utah and flown in an overnight plane to an American big band program on tour with the Pops downs in Florida and I’d literally be on the podium doing Glenn Miller, you know, 12 hours after I was doing Bluebeard’s Castle.”

Many major orchestras, like the Pittsburgh and Boston symphonies, give pops concerts, and while the personnel are largely the same, the classical and pops orchestras have different names like Pittsburgh Symphony Pops and Boston Pops, play different music, and have different conductors.
Notably, the audiences don’t overlap much, but Lockhart says the point of pops isn’t to convert people to classical music; it’s to play orchestral music for a large audience.

“Arts organizations need to have validity for as wide an audience as possible,” he said. “We need to play for as many people as possible. That’s the only way that you’re treasured by a large enough portion of the audience to not be viewed as something which is elitist and exists just for the few.”

Pops concerts also have less of the formality of classical concerts. In pops concerts, conductors often talk much more to the audience, and in terms of programming, pops concerts are usually less 45-minute symphonies than short works in rapid succession; variety is the operative idea.

“The days of being able to be on your mountain top, communing with the musical gods and not interacting with the audience, are over,” he said.

Lockhart feels that music is entertainment, though entertainment has come to be mind-numbing rather than engaging, he said. Music, however, makes the audience work.

“We still have to show those people that they have to come home at 5:30 after a hard day at the office, put on nice clothes, go out and pay $30 for parking, and go to something that does not allow them the easy, comfy Barcalounger way out of the experience,” he said. “Rather than us trying to separate ourselves from entertainment, I think what we need to do is draw people into an entertainment that is ultimately more rewarding but, yes, does require more work on the part of the recipient.”

So, when January rolls around, make sure to attend the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic’s concert in New York. It might be a long trip, but Mahler’s first symphony will be much more rewarding than watching reality TV all night.