Few things compare to the enchantment of Independence Day celebrations in the great city of Boston. This is largely due to the free performances by the Boston Pops conducted by Keith Lockhart set to the backdrop of one of the city’s most treasured parks and the Charles River. Like clockwork, this July 3 and 4, tens of thousands of concertgoers will descend upon the Esplanade to celebrate our Declaration of Independence. And like all other summers, it will be an event of great revelry.
Much of the charm of the Classical/Pops Festival, held annually in December on the island of Barbados, parallels the merriment experienced at Boston Pops concerts at the Esplanade. While there’s a majesty associated with hearing and seeing a full orchestra in an outdoor environment, it must be noted how much of an unlikely social gathering this event turns out to be. For starters, entire communities, frequently both youthful and more ethnically diverse, arrive early to stake out the real estate of The Oval for prime picnicking.
The idea of being there for an elite classical experience (albeit often with contemporary pop-star collaborations) is juxtaposed with an ultra-relaxed party space where traditional symphony rules go out the window. This is because the main goal is to have a good time! Survey the crowd of packed blankets and anchored boats and you’ll find gourmet potlucks of lobster rolls, pasta salads, and vintage champagne accompanied by lively conversation, spirited dancing, and spontaneous clapping. After sunset, as the orchestra performs and stars begin to speckle the Boston skyline, a hush may fall over certain parts of the audience seated closer to the bandshell. Fireworks at the end of the event signify its conclusion, enabling new life moments to emerge across the lawn: first dates, marriage proposals, and new traditions of family outings.
There are certainly other great “Esplanade” experiences around the country. L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl has hosted a namesake symphony invented to “cut across artificial barriers to become an orchestra for all tastes.” Its conductor, Thomas Wilkins, joins Classical/Pops for a second consecutive season. Of course, the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood has captivated audiences in the Berkshires and has similarly fostered an arms race of ever more gourmet picnic baskets and fine wines. Across the pond, BBC Proms in Hyde Park is Britain’s largest outdoor classical music event and arguably the world’s biggest classical/pops party. Similarly, the Classical/Pops Festival Barbados is nurturing this splendid tradition at the Apes Hill Club, St. James in Barbados this December 11–12. With the memory of summer concerts fading and warily awaiting winter’s chill, it is certain that, come December, you will be in the mood for an all-star orchestra, amazing headliners, beautiful beaches, world-class golf, great food, and, of course, rum! Just think, revisiting the party atmosphere of the Boston Pops at The Esplanade, but doing it in the sunny Caribbean in mid-December … how can you resist?