BSO founder Henry Lee Higginson had proposed this new series in the hope of re-creating the ambiance of summer evenings in Viennese concert gardens, while also providing summer employment for the members of the Boston Symphony, who at that point had to search for other work six months out of the year. In 1900 these performances officially became Pops (short for “Popular”) concerts.
For the next 45 years, Boston Pops concerts were led by conductors of European background. In 1930, however, that trend came to an end. Arthur Fiedler, a BSO viola player, led the Pops as a replacement during the 1926 season, following the resignation of conductor Agide Jacchia. After that success, Fiedler asked to be named the permanent conductor, but management chose Alfredo Casella instead. Undaunted, Fiedler organized and conducted a series of free outdoor concerts, thus inaugurating the Esplanade Concerts (which were eventually taken over by the BSO). Following Casella's departure, the BSO offered Fiedler a three-year contract beginning with the 1930 Pops season.
Arthur Fiedler led the Boston Pops until his death in 1979, transforming the organization into a national institution in America, a musical ambassador abroad, and the most-recorded orchestra in the world. Regular radio broadcasts and the PBS television series “Evening at Pops” began during his tenure.
By the time John Williams was appointed Boston Pops Conductor in January 1980, he was the world’s best-known film composer. He also had an enviable classical training, had worked as a jazz pianist, and had arranged albums for popular artists. He brought to the podium the background, talent, and celebrity to succeed at a daunting assignment. He both broadened and updated the Pops repertoire, writing and commissioning new compositions while also introducing arrangements of recent popular music—such as film scores—that would be suitable for orchestral performance. He maintained the popularity of “Evening at Pops” and led a series of best-selling recordings.
At Christmas 1991, John Williams announced that he would step down as Conductor at the end of 1993, at which time he assumed the title of Laureate Conductor. He also agreed to serve as Music Advisor while the BSO again took on a seemingly impossible task—finding someone to succeed him. Keith Lockhart, the twentieth Boston Pops Conductor and only the third since Arthur Fiedler, was appointed in February 1995.
Under Keith Lockhart, the orchestra has dramatically increased its touring activities, performing in concert halls and sports arenas across the country. The Pops received its first Grammy nomination for “The Celtic Album," and "The Latin Album" received a Latin Grammy nod. In 2004 the orchestra released “Sleigh Ride,” its first self-produced recording. The perennially popular July Fourth concert is now telecast nationally on CBS. New programs such as Jazzfest and Edgefest showcase artists from different musical worlds and attract an even wider audience to Boston Pops concerts in the 21st century.