The Boston Pops division of the Boston Symphony Orchestra has pulled all stops for its presentation of The Dream Lives On, a world premiere performance tomorrow night at Symphony Hall honoring the legacy of three of Massachusetts’s most famous native sons, the Kennedy brothers.
To bring them to life with their own words, three of America’s most prominent actors are to be on stage: Robert De Niro, who will narrate quotes from speeches of John Kennedy; Ed Harris, those of Robert Kennedy; and Morgan Freeman , those of Edward Kennedy. Cherry Jones is to be narrator, and Keith Lockhart will lead the Boston Pops Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The concert is to be repeated on Wednesday evening.
A dramatic orchestral and choral score, The Dream Lives On was commissioned from Peter Boyer by Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops in celebration of the orchestra’s 125th season. It combines quotes with original text and video. The title was taken from the closing lines of Ted Kennedy’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention: “If we set our compass true, we will reach our destination… The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.”
“This project — a new work for the Boston Pops honoring the Kennedy brothers — has been a dream of mine for quite some time now,” said Lockhart.
Peter Boyer recently orchestrated music for Michael Giacchino’s Oscar-winning score to Up. In addition to writing orchestral arrangements for more than a dozen feature films, Mr. Boyer has twice arranged and orchestrated music for the Academy Awards, including the 2009 telecast. Mr. Boyer’s Ellis Island: The Dream of America is one of the most-performed large-scale American orchestral works of the last decade.
Writer and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, in her longtime partnership with composer Stephen Flaherty, has enjoyed tremendous Broadway success with shows including Once on this Island, Dessa Rose, Seussical the Musical, and Ragtime (for which Ahrens won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards). Her songs have been recorded and/or performed by Aretha Franklin, Aaliyah, Johnny Mathis, Richard Marx and Donna Lewis, Renée Fleming and Bryn Terfel, Donny Osmond, Deana Carter, Audra McDonald, and many others.
Robert De Niro, who is thought of as one of the greatest actors of his time, is known for method acting techniques by studying his characters’ backgrounds. Establishing his reputation as a volatile actor in Mean Streets (1973), which was his first film with director Martin Scorsese, De Niro received an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in The Godfather: Part II (1974). (He and Marlon Brando are the only two actors to win an Oscar for playing the same character.) De Niro also received Academy Award nominations for best actor in Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), and Cape Fear (1991). He won the best actor award in 1980 for Raging Bull (1980). De Niro currently heads his own production company, Tribeca Film Center, and made his directorial debut in 1993 with A Bronx Tale (1993).
Morgan Freeman’s reserved demeanor and authoritative, distinctive speaking voice have earned him a reputation for depicting wise, fatherly characters. Early in his career, he worked simultaneously in Los Angeles, in New York City (as a dancer at the 1964 World’s Fair), and in San Francisco, where he was a member of the Opera Ring music group. He has received Academy Award nominations for his performances in Street Smart, Driving Miss Daisy, The Shawshank Redemption and Invictus and won in 2005 for Million Dollar Baby. He has also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Edward Allen “Ed” Harris, an actor, writer and director, is known for his performances in Appaloosa, Creepshow, The Rock, The Right Stuff, Enemy at the Gates, The Abyss, Glengarry Glen Ross, Apollo 13, Pollock, A Beautiful Mind, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Hours, Milk Money, and The Truman Show. He has been nominated numerous times for the Academy Award, and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Truman Show and the National Society of Film Critics Award for A History of Violence. Further Oscar nominations arrived in 1999, 2001 and 2003, for The Truman Show, Pollock and The Hours, respectively. He also portrayed a German sniper, Major Erwin Konig, in Enemy at the Gates. More recently, he appeared as a vengeful mobster in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence and as a police officer alongside Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman in Gone, Baby, Gone, directed by Ben Affleck. In 2007, he appeared in National Treasure: Book of Secrets as Mitch Wilkinson.
Cherry Jones, who can currently be seen in the hit TV show 24 as President Allison Taylor, has appeared in Oceans Twelve, The Village, Signs, and Cradle Will Rock, and in guest appearances on television shows including “The West Wing” and “Frasier.” Ms. Jones won Tony awards in 1995 for her leading role in The Heiress and in 2005 for her leading role in Doubt, and won an Emmy award in 2009 for her role in 24.
These concerts also feature a very special Star-Spangled Banner, The National 9/11 Flag – the flag that was hanging before, during, and after the attacks across from the South Tower – accompanied by members of the New York and Boston Fire Departments, as well as volunteers who travel to disaster areas to help rebuild. The presence of the 9/11 Flag is an especially appropriate accompaniment to these Boston Pops concerts premiering “The Dream Lives On,” as President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which for the first time officially recognized September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Also, in the aftermath of 9/11 Senator Kennedy personally called the 177 Massachusetts families who had lost loved ones in the attack. The flag presentation includes a new film by Scott Rettberg and Megan Sleeper and edited by Bryan Norfolk.
The May 18 and 19 program, part of a series entitled “American Heroes,” will also feature Arlo Guthrie singing “This Land is Your Land” and Brian Stokes Mitchell singing a new arrangement of one of his signature songs, “The Impossible Dream,” with chorus and orchestra.
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Watching the hour-long infomercial on WGBH on the Boston Pops last night, I was invaded by a certain nostalgia, but also an increasing sense of frustration over the missed opportunity that the program turned out to be.
Yes, it was pleasing to see the old photos of Arthur Fiedler as a young man and to hear an excerpt of “Jalousie,” the Pops’ first commercial hit. Yes, the salute to Leroy Anderson hit the spot. Yes, there were snippets of terrific orchestra playing, especially from the brass. And yes, Ella Fitzgerald was a goddess.
But oh, how shallow and one-dimensional that hour was, given the Pops’ long and complex history. There was not a glimpse of any back story, or of any reportorial distance. (I knew a lot of back story way back when. As a high school student circa 1958, I studied double bass with a Pops regular, and then, as a young professional, I was friends with the Pops’ recording producer at Deutsche Gramophone and had a passing acquaintanceship with both Fiedler and one of his children.) There wasn’t even any front story, as the difficult relationship between John Williams and the orchestra players, widely reported in the Boston papers at the time, was photo-shopped out of this “documentary’s” squeaky clean, Kodak-snapshot picture.
I also found it telling that the bulk the musical excerpts focused on, not on the orchestra or its writers (Anderson was the only arranger even mentioned), but on star turns by various personalities from the world of commercial pop music. The rule of thumb for these appearances is that the star appears front and center with his or her habitual accompanists, doing his or her habitual number, and the orchestra is reduced to a minimal kind of purring – lots of whole notes from the string section. What kind of answer is that to the admittedly important question of how to bring the arts to America?
There were also many promo shots of Fiedler and Lockhart doing “fun” things – sitting in fire trucks, rowing down the Charles, etc. Well, why not. But every single interesting question about the relation of a major orchestra to the world of commerce and mass media, including the issue of musicians’ morale, a major theme during the years I followed this outfit, was avoided.
It is clear that the program was a promotional piece for the upcoming Pops season. It’s granted that the BSO needs the Pops income to survive. But it’s less clear that WGBH needs to present the hour as a genuine documentary. This it was not. Which brings us back to a topic that has animated a number of articles and posts on this site: what is the mission of the WGBH Foundation? And is it fulfilling that mission? Or has it, rather, lost sight of its original, lofty goals to become a gray, corporate placeholder in the media world, slapping backs and swapping favors on the old-boy network of institutional complacency?
There is still a fascinating film to be made about the Pops. Let’s hope there is still some glimmer of cutting-edge, creative energy in that new behemoth of a building on Western Avenue. That energy was certainly not in evidence last night.
Trobador, A Viewer
Comment by Trobador — May 17, 2010 at 2:42 pm
When my mail arrived a few days ago, there was a flyer from The Pops announcing weeknight discounts of 20 dollars nearly everywhere in the Hall. (Hmmm…the lowest price seats ARE 20 dollars…does that mean they’re now free?) I wonder if by “weeknights” they mean just Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, or does that offer include Fridays as well?) This tells me that the Globe article from a couple of weeks ago got it right: The Boston Pops isn’t the cash cow it used to be.
Comment by Laurence Glavin — May 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm
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