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Bringing The Kennedy Words to Life in Music: A Profound Occasion for the Boston Pops


When Robert De Niro started to talk on his relationship with the Kennedy family at the press conference this noon for tonight’s  Boston Pops performance, “the Dream Lives on: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers,” he broke down. He had known the Kennedys for years, “John John as a little boy,” he recalled, “then,..” and  was unable to continue

That emotional reaction is symbolic of the seriousness of the performance tonight, albeit coming from the Boston Pops. And it is the reason that Boston Musical Intelligencer decided to cover an event not normally within our scope.

”It is bigger than anything I have ever done,” explained Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart. The Kennedy words are important, he acknowledged, but he wanted to bring them “to a higher plane,” and the one thing that could do that, he suggested, is “musical expression.”

Peter Boyer, the composer, was asked by Lee Eiseman, publisher of the Intelligencer, how he viewed his work “in the shadow of the Lincoln Portrait” by Copland.

That work “is a key part of the American symphonic repertoire,” Boyer responded, but his work celebrates three people, ones more recent in our past. He also stated that Leonard Bernstein and John Williams “also informed the work that I do.” Boyer, too, keenly felt the enormity of this project. After receiving the commission, he visited the Kennedy gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery. Recounting this to the press, he too almost broke down.

The Intelligencer also asked Boyer how his work as an orchestrator for film composers informed this work. (He was an orchestrator for Up, the score of which won an Academy Award for composer Michael Giacchino.) Boyer demurred on his role in that film, stating that it was “minor,” but then adding that he was thrilled this time to do a composition on his own. When Lockhart called to ask him, Boyer said, “it took one nano-second to respond.”

His score, Ellis Island, written in 2002, has already entered the American repertoire.

Governor Deval Patrick had a significant role to play, Lockhart noted. When he discussed his project early on with the governor, he told Lockhart, “It should not be just about JFK. The Kennedy family represents the most consistent and compelling views of American political thought.” So it evolved to include all three brothers.

The profundity of the press conference was established from the very beginning, when Morgan Freeman responded about what the Kennedy legacy meant to him, “I don’t think I’m any different from any other American, what it means to be an American.”

Tonight and tomorrow night, the audience will see what this means.


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