Boston Pops 125 Salutes American Heroes and Honors Kennedy Brothers Part 1: De Niro, Freeman and Harris

May 23, 2010

Boston_Pops_125Presidents at Pops with Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Cherry Jones, Patti Austin, Arlo Guthrie and Brian Stokes Mitchell

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the Boston Pops Stars and Stripes: American Heroes this past week, you missed one heck of a concert!

From May 18-22, the Boston Pops presented one of its biggest programs yet and Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Pops guest artists presented four evenings packed with music, memories, celebrity excitement, and great emotion.

I seem to have a lot of musical firsts, and this Pops concert program was by far my favorite ever. Keith Lockhart and the Pops put together a program that included Hollywood’s and Boston’s elite, 9/11 Rescue workers and local artists, and the programs were so phenomenal that I had to attend twice!   [Heads up… this article is going to be long, which is why it will be in two parts!]

In honor of its 125th anniversary, Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra commissioned a work to commemorate the lives of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy. When I spoke with Keith Lockhart earlier this year, he told me that he had long wanted to commission a piece to celebrate the lives of John and Bobby, with Ted narrating, but with the passing of Senator Kennedy last August, the work was commissioned as a tribute to the lives of the three brothers.

Peter Boyer, who in 2002 brought us Ellis Island: The Dream of America, was commissioned for this work and he, along with librettist Lynn Ahrens, presented a moving orchestral, narrative and video tribute celebrating the service of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy called The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers.

The Boston Pops’ salute to American Heroes was, more than anything, about emotion. As the Tanglewood Festival Chorus assembled on the risers on the Symphony Hall stage, a half dozen public service men and women, and one service dog, quietly filed to the front of the stage.

Boston_Pops_125_911_FlagOn Wednesday, the first night I attended, the crowd fell silent as these honor guard participants took their places, while on the second night, the audience broke into a loud applause and gave a standing ovation. All members of first responder teams during the attacks on 9/11, they had our respect, our admiration and our hearts.

Keith Lockhart joined the ensemble and asked us to remain standing for the National Anthem. As I stood there, watching a video about the National 9/11 Flag displayed above the stage, I, like many around me, was overcome with pride, emotion and tears.

The Tanglewood Festival chorus sang our National Anthem, and never have I heard it sung more beautifully. As the climax, ‘For the land of the free’ came, the Chorus belted out the highest, strongest, and proudest notes I’ve heard, and it gave me goose bumps. It was pure and it was perfect, and quite honestly a moment that lives within me.

The first night that I attended the Pops this week was the Presidents at Pops evening. Presidents at Pops, now in its 29th season, is a corporate event that includes CEOs and executives of Boston’s major corporations who all generously support the Boston Symphony organization. It was a grand event and I was thrilled that the Pops sold seats to the general public this year.

The Presidents at Pops evening was the second night of the Pops’ American Heroes salute and each evening had slightly varied programs and different guest artists. The program began with the very moving National Anthem, John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, and Excerpts from Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring.  Each piece was poignant, celebrating liberty and Americana.  I really loved Copland’s Appalachian Spring because for me it vividly paints the landscape of our nation as we grew and expanded west.

Boston_Pops_Patti_AustinOur first guest artist of the evening during Wednesday’s program was Grammy winner Patti Austin who sang two pieces. Ms. Austin and the Boston Pops gave the world premiere of a new song called We the People. Written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Roger Kellaway, We the People is the theme song for “Visions of America – a Photo Symphony.”

Mr. and Ms. Bergman, who have penned hundreds of famous songs, including The Way We Were and What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life (one of my favorites!), songs from Yentl and A Star is Born, and so many more,  were also in the audience to see and hear their premiere!

Renese King who has performed with the Boston Pops, the Utah Symphony and at Carnegie Hall sang We the People on Friday night and I loved the passion with which she sang!

Patti Austin and Renese King also sang America the Beautiful.

The Dream Lives On was presented as an orchestral piece that included both narration and video.  The video included photos from the lives of John, Bobby and Ted Kennedy, and as we watched the video and listened to the music, Robert De Niro, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman spoke the words of  John, Bobby and Ted respectively.  On Friday night, actor Will LeBow presented a rousing and compelling narration of the work.  It was very moving and a beautiful tribute to the brothers.

The Dream Lives On was recorded and will be available through the Boston Pops Web site at  It will likely also be broadcast on TV [check the Web site for details.]  Below is an excerpt of the presentation with De Niro, Harris, Freeman and Jones narrating.

Before moving on to the second half of the evening, I’d like to take a moment to talk about something that happened after the Presidents at Pops event.

The Boston Pops: The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers

After the performance, I was waiting for my friend, Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra and Utah Symphony Tubist Gary Ofenloch.  As I waited, I noticed that Joan Kennedy, the former wife of Senator Ted Kennedy, had attended the performance and was also waiting nearby.  As she came outside, she noted to a BSO escort that it would be difficult to get a cab with all the concert traffic.

I had previously met Mrs. Kennedy a number of years ago, and knew that she lived in the area, so I approached her, re-introduced myself, and asked if I could offer her a ride home.  We spoke for a few moments, and she then surprisingly accepted my offer.

But what was more meaningful to me was how memorable this would be for  my friend Gary.  I told him that we’d be escorting Mrs. Kennedy home and he stood there in shock.  The Kennedy’s were Gary’s generation, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment for him.

As we left Symphony Hall, Mrs. Kennedy talked about the concert and how on the first evening she and her son Teddy had attended.  She said that it had been emotional for him, seeing the pictures of his father and she had been so engrossed in the video that she hadn’t really listened to the music, which is why she came back for the second night.

Gary and Mrs. Kennedy spoke about the three brothers, both remarking on the sad passing of Bobby’s untimely death.  Mrs. Kennedy said that his was the saddest of all.  Gary also asked her a few questions about Joe Kennedy and what he was like, and she very openly conversed with us.  I even asked her how she had met Ted and she relayed a story about how they met because she was a senior in college and he was speaking at the college, and had she not been a senior, she never would have had the opportunity to meet him.

It was a very comfortable conversation, though it ended far too quickly.  I enjoyed speaking with her, but it was really poignant and memorable for Gary.  I think he’s still wondering how it all happened, and was also regretting she didn’t live so close to Symphony Hall!

With that, I’ll move on to the 2nd half of this incredible Boston Pops 125th Anniversary celebration.  There’s definitely more to share!

Click Here for Boston Pops 125 Salutes American Heroes Part 2

2 Responses to Boston Pops 125 Salutes American Heroes and Honors Kennedy Brothers Part 1: De Niro, Freeman and Harris
  1. […] saw Renese King earlier this year during the Pops 125th Anniversary concert honoring the Kennedy brothers and then again during the 4th of July concerts on the Esplanade. At […]

  2. […] the first half of the Pops’ salute to American Heroes, we were presented with an already full program of music […]


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