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Pops return to Boston for Fourth of July extravaganza04:46
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A woman watches the Boston Pops Orchestra perform during the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the DCR Hatch Shell on the Esplanade in Boston, MA on July 4, 2019. (Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
A woman watches the Boston Pops Orchestra perform during the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the DCR Hatch Shell on the Esplanade in Boston, MA on July 4, 2019. (Erin Clark for The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Boston Pops will perform on The Esplanade in Boston this Fourth of July for the first time in three years.

"The thought that we haven't been there live since 2019 kind of boggles the imagination," said Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Pops since 1995.

The 2020 celebration was canceled because of the pandemic. In 2021, the Pops performed the Independence Day celebration at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts in order to avoid crowding on the Esplanade.

Lockhart is glad to be returning.

"I really do think it's one of those clear signs that we're coming to the other side of what has shut us down for these couple of years," Lockhart said. "We're just thrilled to be sharing this with the people of Boston again."

This year's performance will include the "1812 Overture." The piece by Tchaikovsky celebrates a Russian military victory over Napoleon's French troops, but it has become a signature part of the Pops' celebration of America's birthday.

With Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, there have been calls for the piece to be scrapped from this year's concert. Lockhart said he understands the motivation for those calls, but plans to keep the tradition going.

"In many ways, I think most Americans have come to think of the '1812 Overture' as ours and as celebrating freedom in the broadest general terms without really applying it to its original reason for composition," Lockhart said.

This year's Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular will be headlined by legendary singer Chaka Khan. There will also be performances by stage and television actress Heather Headly and singer Javier Colón.

After years of performing on the Fourth, what is Lockhart's favorite part? He points to John Philip Sousa's march "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

"I know it's the end of the concert and there are so many things, so much pressure in a live performance like that," he said, "that I'm just greatly relieved. When I get to Stars and Stripes I know I'm in the homestretch."

This segment aired on July 4, 2022.

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