When Pops Orchestras Tap Pop Culture, Is Something Lost?

Boston Pops on July 4th (Wikipedia Commons)

Over the past couple of decades, pops concerts – long a format for light classics by Rossini, Bizet and Holst – have undergone a wholesale shift: they’re now a catchall category for film screenings with orchestra, legacy rock bands, circus acts, crossover tenors and other more unclassifiable fare.

In this August 2016 article for The New York Times, I look at the changes shaping the pops format, and what might be lost as pops producers target new audiences.

“There is a fundamental challenge facing pops orchestras and series, which tend to have audiences older than classical ones. As music directors and administrators try various approaches to connect with new audiences — adding film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, video game soundtracks, theatrical circus spectacles and 1990s rock acts — are they abandoning the large repertory that drew many listeners in the first place?

What is disappearing, some say, are the light classics that once were staples of mainstream classical concerts that, around the middle of the last century, migrated to pops: Rossini overtures, Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies,’ Respighi’s ‘Fountains of Rome,’ Bach transcriptions and other colorful showpieces.”

“As these film programs multiply (current favorites of concert presenters include ‘Home Alone’ and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ according to the online directory Movies in Concert), conductors and artistic administrators say they struggle to find room for the traditional light orchestral numbers.”

Read on.