When most kids his age were asking for BB guns or skateboards, Keith Lockhart pined for piano lessons. And as a high-school freshman in 1974, he got his wish — a summer studying at Brevard Music Center. His parents were not musicians (both worked for IBM, an engineer and a mathematician), but they fully supported his artistic interests.
Lockhart later studied at Furman University and at Carnegie Mellon, where he discovered his passion for conducting, inspired by such maestros as Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, István Kertész, and Charles Mackerras. He took over the reins of the Boston Pops in 1996, and in 2010 became principal conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.
He never lost touch with Brevard, though, and was named the music center’s artistic director in 2007. “It’s my responsibility to ensure that BMC provides the same level of inspiration to today’s students as it did to me 40 years ago,” he says.
What drew you to conducting?
I always liked the process of assembly, the challenge of holding it all together, and the fact that I could help create something bigger and grander than any of us could create individually.
It seems that a conductor must be able to see the big picture, musically, as well as know all of the small parts of that picture.
Conducting involves fashioning a coherent and effective musical experience out of many people’s contributions. However, that performance is made up of thousands of minute details, a good number of which may not be audible to the audience or even the orchestra. A conductor has to balance addressing the big picture with extreme attention to detail, and conductors who fail in one direction or the other to achieve that balance rarely go far.
Who are your favorite composers and why?
Too many to list. If I had to do the “desert island” question, I’d probably go for Dvorák, because his music is so incredibly human, and Mahler, because his music is so transcendent as to go beyond human comprehension. But then I’d have to leave Stravinsky out. And Bartók. And Respighi. And Mozart. You get the idea.
What’s the trick to bringing a great performance out of an orchestra?
Finding the core of what the composer wishes to express, conveying that to the ensemble, and then leading a performance that allows everyone on stage to feel completely comfortable to perform at their highest level, and inspired to risk going beyond even that.
What keeps you motivated in music?
Conducting is self-motivating, if you take your responsibilities to players, audience, and music seriously. Really understanding anything as complex as a great piece of music, and being able to impart that understanding to others, takes a tremendous amount of work and focus. There’s nothing like a keen sense of inadequacy to keep you getting up every morning.
Keith Lockhart conducts the Brevard Music Center Orchestra on Friday, August 5 (“Lockhart Conducts Sibelius”) at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 7, (“Beethoven 9”) at 3pm, as part of the 80th anniversary of the Brevard Music Festival. For complete program listings and ticket info, visit www.brevardmusic.org/festival/performances.