Uncommon Leadership

Keith Lockhart, Conductor, Boston Pops

The inaugural event for The UMass Uncommon Leadership Series was held on June 14, 2006. The featured guest was Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops. Keith was interviewed by Glenn Mangurian, University of Massachusetts "Executive in Residence." The topic was "Leading a World-class Organization." Jack Wilson, President of the University of Massachusetts, hosted the program. The following are excerpts from that conversation. To listen to the complete exchange, click on the audio icons. Or read guest commentary.

On Being a Conductor

Q. When did you decide you wanted to be a conductor?

A. Well, it was end of undergrad years. One of my instructors, whoI think was afraid of having another unemployed pianist on his hands asked, "Have you ever thought about conducting? You seem to have the analytical capability, and the leadership skills; the kind of coaching mentality that being a conductor requires." Read more

Q. Who most influenced you as a conductor?

A. As for most young American conductors, Leonard Bernstein was a model, even though he has been gone for 15 years. He was a Renaissance man of music. He was a great pianist, composer, conductor, but most important he was a great advocate and communicator of music. Read more

On Culture and Heritage

Q. What's it like conducting an organization that is 121 years old and how do you see your role today?

A. It's not just becoming the conductor of the Boston Pops. It's following the legacy of a person whose name is familiar to people in Boston and elsewhere, even if they weren't born when he died. Arthur Fiedler. He defined the institution on the national level. His accomplishments have inextricably linked his name to the institution. Read more

On the Business of the Arts

Q. Do you see parallels between leading an orchestra and a business?

A. There are certainly parallels and, there are differences. Just imagine that you are the CEO of a corporation where you sit perched on a little box so you can see what all of your employees are doing. Nobody has a cubicle, nobody has any privacy. It is basically a flat hierarchy. Read more

Q. Do you get involved in the business side of things?

A. The Pops is a unique business model. It's a hierarchy that has two heads-the Managing Director and the Conductor, which report to the Board. Together the Boston Symphony and the Boston Pops represent an $80 million a year budgeted organization. Read more

On Changing Markets

Q. Nationally, attendance in the performing arts is down. Do you see that?

A. This is a dangerous time for the arts. We are becoming in many ways a society that's walled off in individual surround-sound stereo and computer-console enclaves. Read more

Q. How's has the Boston Pops stayed relevant, and how will it stay relevant for the next generation of concert goers?

A. Staying relevant is the single biggest challenge to anybody leading this institution. In a way, it's a bigger challenge than James Levine or Seiji Ozawa faced in the more traditional Boston Symphony context, and more than I face in my other role as the "James Levine" of the Utah Symphony. Read more

On Talent & Leadership

Q. How do you lead musicians that are world class in their fields?

A. One of the things that influences orchestral leadership is the kind of person who plays in an orchestra. If you look at the Boston Symphony on stage, realize that every one of those people had 'the dream'. Every one of the people in the violin section had the dream of playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto in front of the orchestra as the person whose artistic impulses were being followed by the people around them. They don't dream about being a person who takes orders. Read more

Q. How do you evaluate a new conductor?

A. Key to evaluating a conductor is observing the musicians. When we evaluate a person for a staff conductor in Boston or Salt Lake City, we have some unique tests. Read more

Q. What's the best compliment the audience can give its conductor after a superb performance?

A. From the musicians, the best compliment is, '"You made it so easy to play." That's the highest praise a conductor can receive, especially from great musicians like those in this orchestra. Read more

Jack Wilson and Keith Lockhart

Jack Wilson and Keith Lockhart

Uncommon Leadership

Listen to excerpts from Keith Lockhart

On leading an organization that is 121 years old

On leading people who are world class in their field

On making his musical vision tangible

Click here to listenOn the changing Pops consumer

On keeping the Pops stayed relevant

On parallels between leading an orchestra and running a business

Listen to the entire interview here


Guest Commentary