At Pops, patriotism and a salute to Kennedys

By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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The Fourth of July came early this year, at least in Symphony Hall. Last night the Boston Pops triple underlined the nickname it earned during its heyday, “America’s orchestra.’’ It was a night of music as patriotism with a greatest-generation tint, delivered in part by Hollywood stars. Judging by the crowd’s abundant enthusiasm, the night hit its mark for those present. Ovations came early and often.

The evening opened with Keith Lockhart leading a snippet from the Largo of Dvorak’s “New World’’ Symphony as a prelude to the unveiling of the National 9/11 Flag, which hung near the South Tower on the morning of the attacks. New York and Boston-area firefighters who participated in the rescue and recovery were on hand to receive the crowd’s warm appreciation, and Renese King sang “America the Beautiful.’’

But the main event of the evening was the premiere of “The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers,’’ commissioned by the Pops and composed by Peter Boyer.

The title might be somewhat misleading, since this piece mostly steers clear of individualized portraiture and instead provides a musical frame for uplifting excerpts taken mostly from famous speeches given by John, Robert, and Edward, recited last night by Robert De Niro, Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman, respectively. The lyricist Lynn Ahrens helped select the texts and wrote two paragraphs that lead in and out of the piece, delivered by Cherry Jones.

Boyer’s work accomplishes the goals he described in preconcert interviews of amplifying the texts by these three American icons. His writing draws from the traditions of Williams-esque Hollywood film scores, Broadway musicals, and American neo-Romanticism.

The chosen texts concern themselves almost exclusively with the public dimensions of the lives of the three brothers, and Boyer seemed less interested in complicating or shading the picture than with heightening the emotional tug of their words. Among the narrators, Jones brought the most theatrical investment to her lines. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus had a supporting role, and projected images of all three Kennedys brought a multimedia dimension to the commemorative work.

After intermission came well-received appearances by Arlo Guthrie and Brian Stokes Mitchell, as well as a sing-along of patriotic tunes such as “Yankee Doodle’’ and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.’’ Another segment saluted those who had served in the various branches of the US military, with Lockhart honoring individuals in the audience.


John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy

Composer sets the Kennedy legacy to music

"The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers" by Peter Boyer features the words of John, Robert, and Edward Kennedy (pictured from left). Narrators include Robert De Niro, Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman.

Keith Lockhart, conductor
At: Symphony Hall, last night