Welcoming summer’s glories with friends in Ogunquit, listening languidly to waves lapping the rock-strewn sandy beach, long walks on the Marginal Way, lobster and steamers – life’s pleasures endure, despite the despicable political environment. Our nation’s birthday is still a cause for celebration.
Years ago, we were regulars on the Esplanade for the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. This year, we drove back from Maine to watch the festivities on television. We all have to adapt to change, and the Pops Fourth of July concert is no exception. Impressario David Mugar had underwritten the fireworks event since 1974, but this year, after shelling out millions of his own dollars to keep the tradition going, Mugar stepped aside. The good news is that money management firm Eaton Vance, headquartered in Boston since 1924, stepped up (thank you, CEO Tom Faust), and the Pops Fourth of July concert was better than ever. Eaton Vance’s backing means the concert can continue to be free to the public
Medford-born former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also played a key role by becoming the event’s media sponsor. When Mugar moved the event several years ago from WCVB-TV Channel 5 (full disclosure: my old employer) broadcast nationally on the A & E network to WBZ-TV 4 and wider CBS national distribution, the Boston Symphony lost much of its control of the production. (Disclosure 2.0: I’m an overseer emerita of the BSO.) It was larded with too many and ill-timed commercials and cut-ins. The orchestra’s talents were barely on display, a seeming after-thought. The distinctive Boston flavor was terribly diminished. The Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra was reduced to a back-up band for celebrity talent of the moment. We came to prefer the D.C. and New York July 4th versions. Then CBS bowed out, putting the annual event at risk. This past spring, Bloomberg TV picked it up, and distributed it on its several platforms. The BSO/Boston Pops organization regained control, and the broadcast became a class act once again.
Though there were plenty of commercials, they were more tastefully done. They had a distinctly global flavor, suggesting an anticipated audience with Bloomberg and Eaton Vance that could take the Pops around the world, living up to its nickname, “America’s Orchestra.” The traditional 1812 Overture (criticized by some because it’s Russian rather than American) was played without the irritating interruptions of recent years, and the post-concert recorded music accompanying this year’s spectacular fireworks display was well curated and included Pops recordings. The camera work was excellent and the production values, high.
There were still celebrity performers – singer Melissa Etheridge, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., pop artist Andy Grammer. Baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell premiered a stirring new song, The Sum of Us, by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman that should be an anthem for our time, as much a part of the annual celebration as the 1812 Overture.
But the real star once again was the music, the Boston Pops, the city and the celebration of what has till very recently been our optimistic and inclusive national spirit. At a worrisome time in our nation’s history, with the degradation of civility and ignorance of historic norms and decent behavior at the highest levels, last night’s event was a reminder of what was and could be again.