Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops’ annual Gospel Night and how his career began

For 27 years, the Boston Pops have made Gospel Night a highly-anticipated tradition.  A glorious, enthusiastic audience which includes newcomers and returning fans greet conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and a selection of guest artists.  This year, award-winning Gospel singer Dottie Peoples headlines this year’s concert for one night only on Saturday, June 15 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this beloved annual event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night, its evolution, and having dreams he never imagined would come true.

Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

Sleepless Critic:  The Boston Pops Gospel Night is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing long after the concert was over.

Charles Floyd:  Everybody looks forward to that part of the program because it is probably the most energetic.  The music can be very exciting and uplifting.  We like to feature something that the gospel choir performs without the orchestra.

The orchestra wants to go into overtime and that gets into an issue, but if the building is still open, there’s no reason why the choir can’t stay to do a couple more numbers if they enjoy singing and the audience is going to stick around.  When the formalities are done, it’s a nice moment when people can just let their hair down.

SC:  The concert is so uplifting, you don’t want to leave.  You have been with Gospel Night for 25 years, almost since its start.

CF:   I appeared the second year.  I was called because the conductor the first year could not do it the second year.  I had to take a year away back in 2004, so this is my 25th and it’s their 27th, but I am celebrating 27 years just like they are.

SC:   It must be amazing to see how it has evolved over the years.

CF:   It’s been an honor to be a part of it.  I was working with Miss Natalie Cole for close to 14 years.  We had done a few concerts with the Boston Pops, and at the time, Maestro Lockhart and I were in the running in some capacity to step in.  Keith got the gig and I was very happy for him.  It was great for the community and I was somewhat new, and so they called and asked if I had done that sort of thing.  I said I have and only had about 6 weeks’ notice to prepare.

It was a little bit nerve-wracking to put together an entire program, write orchestration that didn’t exist, and then learn the classics and light classics on top of having to cater to guests artists.  We balanced out the program with Keith conducting the first part of the program and I conducted the third part of the program, Rhapsody in Blue.

Keith had to be at Tanglewood and other places as the date of Gospel Night moved around.  That’s kind of how it happened.  When the door opens, you walk through or the door might not open again and here we are.

Dottie Peoples Headshot 1

Award-winning gospel singer Dottie Peoples Photo courtesy of Boston Symphony Orchestra

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, Dottie Peoples will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 15.  Do you have a hand in who performs each year?

CF:   I am involved in the process.  I don’t always have control over who the artist will be because a certain artist I may want to work with may not be available, but they are nice enough at the Pops office to ask who they could look into.  They come up with their own ideas too.   We all put our cards on the table and explore the possibilities.

SC:  You have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for so many years and you have performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was cute.  By the time I got to a piano, I was 4 and I was already taking out melodies and ordering things by year.  It was another six months before I started taking formal lessons, but yeah, music has been a part of my entire life.

You never know what life is going to hold when you are young.  Just because you start playing the piano no matter how good or bad you are at it, there is no guarantee of what the future will hold.  I took physics and journalism as a back up in high school, but once I got to college, I dedicated myself completely to music and didn’t try to be a master of all trades.

All through 10 years of conservatory and grad school, it was all piano.  I was not a conducting major and I found myself in a situation where a conductor was needed.  I was the only person who could step in at the time, so I got serious about conducting.  I started studying all kinds of things such as opera, had to go through all the symphonies and all the major works of all the major composers.

I learned so much about accompanying singers with the baton from listening and attending operas.  I played for singers my entire life, but to watch a conductor accompany a singer is something I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate at least the way that I did and what I learned from it.  It’s been fun and as long as the work keeps coming in, that’s the greatest thing.  Just to keep going.

SC:  What have been your career highlights?  I understand you also performed Howard Shore’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Symphony‘ at his request.  That must have been tremendous.

CF:  I was trying to explain it to my sister and family not long ago.  People talk about having their dreams come true.  My situation is a little backwards.  It’s not a question of my dreams not coming true, but most everything that has transpired in my career were things I never dreamed of in the first place.

If I had said when I was eight years old that I would be at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops or working with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall with James Taylor and Sting or sitting at an event next to Harry Belafonte or conducting orchestras for Natalie Cole or playing the piano for somebody else.  These are usually once in a lifetime events and I’m grateful that they continue to happen.  New things are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful.

Click here for Gospel Night tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Renowned conductor Charles Floyd talks Boston Pops and Gospel Night’s 25th anniversary featuring CeCe Winans

For 25 years, the Boston Pops has made Gospel Night a highly-anticipated tradition.  A glorious, enthusiastic audience which includes newcomers and returning fans greet Conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and a selection of guest artists.  This year, multiple Grammy award-winning Gospel singer Cece Winans headlines this special 25th anniversary concert for one night only on Saturday, June 17 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and for tickets to this monumental concert event.

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd talks about his longtime role with Gospel Night and its evolution as well as dreams he never imagined coming true.

Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Renowned conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd leading the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

 

Sleepless Critic:  The Boston Pops Gospel is an incredible event each year.  The last time I went, it seemed like the Boston Pops Gospel Choir was a nonstop celebration, joyfully continuing even after the concert was over.

Charles Floyd:  Everybody looks forward to that part of the program because it is probably the most energetic.  The music can be very exciting and uplifting.  We like to feature something that the gospel choir performs without the orchestra.  The orchestra wants to go into overtime and that gets into an issue, but if the building is still open, there’s no reason why the choir can’t stay to do a couple more numbers if they enjoy singing and the audience is going to stick around.  When the formalities are done, it’s a nice moment when people can just let their hair down.

SC:  The concert is so uplifting you don’t want to leave anyway.  You have been with Gospel Night for 23 years, almost since its start.

CF:   I appeared the second year.  I was called because the conductor the first year could not do it the second year.  I had to take a year away back in 2004, so this is my 23rd and it’s their 25th, but I am celebrating 25 years just like they are.

SC:   It must be amazing to see how it has evolved over the years.

Gospel Night at the Boston Pops (Stu Rosner)

Gospel Night at the Boston Pops Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

CF:   It’s been an honor to be a part of it.  I was working with Miss Natalie Cole for close to 14 years.  We had done a few concerts with the Boston Pops, and at the time, Maestro Lockhart and I were in the running in some capacity to step in.  Keith got the gig and I was very happy for him.  It was great for the community and I was somewhat new, and so they called and asked if I had done that sort of thing.  I said I have and only had about 6 weeks’ notice to prepare.  It was little bit nerve-wracking to put together an entire program, write orchestration that didn’t exist, and then learn the classics and light classics on top of having to cater to guests artists.  We balanced out the program with Keith conducting the first part of the program and I conducted the 3rd part of the program, Rhapsody in Blue.  Keith had to be at Tanglewood and other places as the date of Gospel Night moved around.  That’s kind of how it happened.  When the door opens you walk through or the door might not open again and here we are.

SC:   Some of the best things happen spontaneously.  This year, CeCe Winans will be the featured artist on Saturday, June 25.  Do you have a hand in who performs each year?

CF:   I am involved in the process.  I don’t always have control over who the artist will be because a certain artist that I may want to work with may not be available, but they are nice enough at the Pops office to ask who they could look into.  They come up with their own ideas too.   We all put our cards on the table and explore the possibilities.  CeCe is big in the Gospel world and was available.   We’re really excited to have her as our guest.

Boston Pops CeCe_Winans

Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

SC:  Will there be any surprises on this 25th anniversary celebration?

CF:  I don’t think I’ll be flying in from the balcony on a cable, but we do have a few things. (Laughs)  The first part of the program is mostly Americana.  We’ll start the program with Fanfare for The Common Man.  It recently would have been JFK’s 100th birthday.  Maybe the first part will feature the music of John Williams edited together and text added from the speeches of the late president JFK called, Let the Word go Forth.  Some of the music by John Williams will accompanying the narration is from the movie, JFK.  We are just going to celebrate a little Americana with CeCe Winans and the choir is going to perform some favorites over the past 25 years.  We may never get out of there. (Laughs)

SC:  It is fitting since the Boston Pops season is dedicated to John Williams this year.

CF:  Absolutely.  Tying the program together with Boston Pops tradition as well as the Gospel music tradition and its history has been a challenge and a lot of fun.  I look forward to it as well as some many other people.

Boston Pops John Williams leads Film Night, 6.6.14 (Stu Rosner)

Acclaimed composer and conductor John Williams leads Film Night Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

SC:  I’m glad you have been part of the Gospel Night tradition for 23 years and I know you performed all over the world.  Music has been a part of your life since you were 4.

CF:  That’s when I finally got to a piano.  I used to bang on cables and pretend like I was playing.  Everybody thought it was so cute.  By the time I got to a piano, I was 4 and I was already taking out melodies and ordering things by year.  It was another six months before I started taking formal lessons, but yeah, music has been a part of my entire life.

You never know what life is going to hold when you are young.  Just because you start playing the piano no matter how good or bad you are at it, there is no guarantee of what the future will hold.  I took physics and journalism just as a back up in high school, but once I got to college, I dedicated myself completely to music and didn’t try to be a master of all trades.  All through 10 years of conservatory and grad school, it was all piano.  I was not a conducting major and I found myself in a situation where a conductor was needed, I was the only person who could step in at the time, so I got serious about conducting.  I started studying all kinds of things such as opera, had to go through all the symphonies and all the major works of all the major composers.  I learned so much about accompanying singers with the baton from listening and attending operas.  I played for singers my entire life, but to watch a conductor accompany a singer is something I don’t think a lot of people really appreciate at least the way that I did and what I learned from it.  It’s been fun and as long as the work keeps coming in, that’s the greatest thing.  Just to keep going.

SC:  What have been your career highlights?  I understand you also performed Howard Shore’s The Lord of the Rings Symphony at his request.  That must have been tremendous.

Charles Floyd and Melinda Doolittle perform on a Gospel Night Program in 2010 (Stu Rosner)

Charles Floyd and Melinda Doolittle perform on Gospel Night in 2010. Photo courtesy of Stu Rosner/Boston Pops

CF:  I was trying to explain it to my sister and family not long ago.  People talk about having their dreams come true.  My situation is a little backwards.  It’s not a question of my dreams not coming true, but most everything that has transpired in my career were things I never dreamed of in the first place.  If I had said when I was eight years old that in 2017, I would be celebrating 25 years at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops or working with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall with James Taylor and Sting or sitting at an event next to Harry Belafonte or conducting orchestras for Natalie Cole or playing the piano for somebody else.  These are usually once in a lifetime events and I’m grateful that they continue to happen.  New things are coming in all the time and I couldn’t be more grateful and happier.

Click here for Gospel Night tickets, call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200, or visit the Symphony Hall box office during business hours at 301 Massachusetts Ave in Boston, Massachusetts.  Follow The Boston Pops on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Sting, John Mellencamp, Natalie Merchant, and ‘Jaws’ part of Tanglewood’s summer season

What does an underwater predator and an alien paired with Mozart, Mahler, Sondheim, and some of the biggest names in music have in common?  They are arriving at Tanglewood this summer.

Tanglewood - JohnMellencamp

John Mellencamp, Emmylou Harris,and Carlene Carter perform in Tanglewood July 1 Courtesy of BSO Publicity photo

Overlooking stunning views in the Berkshires, the Koussevitzky Music Shed will once again deliver a wide variety of entertainment on Tanglewood’s stage.  Featuring legendary music guests such as Sting, Diana Ross, Emmylou Harris, James Taylor and more, Tanglewood’s season kicks off with renowned BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons leading the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2, Resurrection on Friday, July 7.  The season concludes with The Boston Pops featuring Melissa Etheridge on Sunday, September 3.  Performances are held at Koussevitzky Music Shed in Lenox, Massachusetts.  Click here for tickets and further information.

As the Boston Pops season celebrates the movie magic of acclaimed composer John Williams, Tanglewood delivers a few gems from this year’s Boston Pops season. That underwater predator is none other than Jaws as Keith Lockhart conducts the Boston Pops in John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score live along with the film screening.  Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jaws in Concert arrives just before summer on Sunday, June 18.  Celebrating its 25th anniversary, another Spielberg classic getting the screening live with orchestra treatment is E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in Concert on Friday, August 25.  Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops will perform the Academy award-winning score by John Williams.

 

Just a few of  the celebrity music guests taking the Tanglewood stage are Diana Ross, John Mellencamp, Natalie Merchant, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, as well as Four Voices which includes The Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris will share his insights and his new book, Theft by Finding in his Tanglewood debut on Sunday, August 20.

Great Performances - Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration

Four Voices: Joan Baez, Indigo Girls and Mary Chapin Carpenter perform on Saturday, June 17 Photo courtesy of the BSO

A number of audience favorites will also return such as five time Grammy award-winner James Taylor, John Williams’ Film Night, Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Tanglewood on Parade, and Tanglewood Family Concert where attendees under age 18 are free.

Tanglewood - Diana Ross (photo by Al Watson)

The Legendary Diana Ross performs on Wednesday, August 30 Photo courtesy of Al Watson/BSO

Throughout the season, Tanglewood offers a wide array of classical works from Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and much more.   Located at 297 West Street in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Tanglewood season also includes special music presentations with Underscore FridaysTicket packages are available and attendees under age 40 can get tickets for just 20 dollars.  Click here for further details. Click here for the entire Tanglewood schedule and tickets or call SymphonyCharge at 1-888-266-1200.  Like Tanglewood Music Festival on Facebook for all the latest updates.

 

 

 

REVIEW: WGBH’s annual ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ offered humor, inspiration, and vibrant performances

Lighthearted tales of green porridge, an inspirational insect, a hilarious song about classical Greek to more serious fare such as historical anti-war songs, punctuated with the stirring song, Siúil a Rún, sung a capella, highlighted this year’s WGBH’s A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.  This captivating show concluded its run at Harvard University’s famous Sanders Theatre on Saturday, March 18.  The majestic stage has been affectionately likened to a “roll up desk.”  The beautiful, dark wooden stage was softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.

A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn always strikes a delicate balance between the rollicking and a sweet lullaby.  Wearing coordinated black dresses, Scottish musicians Jenna and Mairi Chaimbeul struck the first chords for an afternoon of celebration, comedy, rebellion, and joy wrapped up in the roots and branches of Irish music.  A high energy number greeted the enthusiastic crowd as the rest of this dynamic ensemble took the stage including returning Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy, The Karan Casey Band, fiddle champion Liz Carroll, and the Miller Family with the Goulding School of Irish Music.  Joined by host WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn was brought to a thrilling start as it traditionally does each year.

Dressed in a black and red dress, Karan Casey’s vocals soar with a tone a bit reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt.  She embraced Buile Mo Chroí’s passionate lyrics such as “the palm of my hand” and “the beat of my heart” accompanied by a concertina, blues guitar, and piano.   She also gave an enthralling performance later as Brian O’Donovan shared how the Irish spontaneously sings in public places.  Karan Casey then offered an impromptu a cappella version of Siúil a Rún as the audience fell into hushed tones before bursting into applause.

All Ireland fiddle champion Liz Carroll, dressed in a red shirt and black pants, offered some welcome comedic storytelling before each of her performances.  Hailing from Chicago, she humorously named a song she’s written on her slide-style fiddle after her brother’s leading film role in The Relic.  She also talked about composing songs for seven rooms in a Chicago art museum containing ceramics, musical instruments, and metal.  Her dry sense of humor combined with her uplifting, toe-tapping songs were wonderful to witness.

Liz was joined by Keith Murphy, who spoke of green porridge on St. Patrick’s Day, for two songs, one amusingly called Barbara Streisand Trip that had the mounting energy and pulsing rhythms of a moving train.  From Newfoundland, Keith Murphy’s performances are always stellar, with a song named after a Tennyson poem about seafaring and the great beyond. He was accompanied by harpist Jenna Moynihan.  His rich, resonant, smooth sound, which possesses a hint of James Taylor and John Denver, is always remarkable.

As for the inspirational insect, Scottish fiddler Jenna Moynihan and harp player and composer Mairi Chaimbeul, competing in a harp festival in April, judged that a particular song was good by an insect that made its presence known after the song, Dancing in Absence was completed.  With the chime of the harp distinct over the fiddler’s subtle rhythm, the energetic tune built into a quick step.

Sam Miller, athletic and blindingly swift, kept the energy high as he performed solo with high leaps, kicks, and complicated stepping.  The Miller dancers and the Goulding School of Irish Music, in coordinated black traditional garb, offered their own moments of comedy, one involving a hat.  They also skillfully navigated though a slip jig and hornpipe reel, showing just why they ranked 5th place at the Glasgow competition traditional set dance.

 

A St. Patrick's Day Celtic Sojourn

Past photo of ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ Courtesy of A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn/WGBH

Keeping up with tradition, Brian O’Donovan, with his wife and the ensemble took the stage to pay tribute to The Clancy Brothers with the catchy tune, The Leaving of Liverpool.

The second half tackled anti-war songs, immigration, and its fair share of comedy mixed in.  Not only did Brian O’Donovan proudly share a comedic song on classical Greek and education at Harvard University accompanied by fiddler Kevin Burke, but on a solemn note, also paid a compelling tribute to the late Leonard Cohen with a song about rebellion called The Partisan.  Brian and Keith Murphy created beautiful harmony, enhanced exquisitely by Mairi Chaibeul’s harp.

The afternoon also boasted collaborative jam sessions that brought the audiences to a stomping rhythm and ending with Karan Casey leading a sing-along on immigration with the entire ensemble, showing how music always makes a difference in the world.

A Celtic Sojourn presents their summer Roots and Branches concert in July, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, and other events during the year.  For a taste of Irish and Celtic traditions each Saturday afternoon, click here to tune in to A Celtic Sojourn hosted by Brian O’Donovan on 89.7 FM WGBH from 3 – 6 p.m.  Follow A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn on Facebook for updates and much more.