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Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops kick off a fresh spring season with “Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert." (Photo by Marco Borggreve)
Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops kick off a fresh spring season with “Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert.” (Photo by Marco Borggreve)

Corresponding with lyricist Lynn Ahrens about the Boston Pops production of “Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert,” conductor Keith Lockhart had a simple question: “How does it feel to look back at this and say, ‘Wow, we wrote a masterpiece’?”

When “Ragtime” debuted on Broadway in 1997, the musical was overshadowed by blockbuster “The Lion King.” But in “Ragtime,” Lockhart sees a complex and compelling work of art that speaks to America’s past and present.

“Oddly enough given all the Tony Awards it won, it is sometimes overlooked in the pantheon of great musicals,” Lockhart told the Herald. “But it is so frighteningly relevant to the time we are living in… The show is about various groups of Americans and how they experience the American dream or how they experience being denied the American dream. You could have written it about 21st century America instead of turn-of-the-century 20th century America.”

The Pops pulled the show’s original creative team together – Ahrens, composer Stephen Flaherty, and the late librettist Terrence McNally – to build a new arrangement of the musical. The reimagining debuts at Symphony Hall May 12 and continues with two Saturday performances.

“Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert” kicks off a 2023 Spring Pops Season full of jazz and Broadway, expected programming and surprises.

What starts with a musical based on early jazz rags evolves into a season including different permutations of jazz. Later in May, trumpet virtuoso Bryon Stripling explores the styles of Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and more. Also in that program will be a new, original orchestra piece using the themes of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Closing the month will be piano icons Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Michael Feinstein collaborating with Lockhart to premiere a show celebrating George Gershwin and his peers.

“I suppose the season does look at early jazz traditions, but that wasn’t deliberate,” Lockhart said.

What was deliberate: A grand, diverse and fun series of programs that explore every inch of symphonic music.

The Pops mission is right there in its name. The orchestra aims to champion popular music. In 2023, popular music has a bafflingly amorphous definition. And yet its calendar does a great job of tackling its mission. Over the next few weeks, there will be a gospel choir, Star Wars film, collaboration with Boston rock band Guster, visit from travel guru Rick Steves, video game scores, and a whole bunch of Disney princesses.

“The Disney princess concert is the perfect thing to be doing two matinees of to draw in the best crowd possible,” Lockhart said. “It’s an hour and a half of every Disney princess you can think of… It’s the perfect inroad for some of our youngest potential audience members.”

“The video games thing is also totally new for us,” Lockhart added. “I haven’t played a video game since Ms. Pac-Man in a bar 35 years ago. But there’s a lot of well-crafted music in [the program] that means a whole lot to a whole lot of people. It’s a chance to reach a different demographic.”

This season will see the Pops do music by Duke Ellington, John Williams and Romantic-era European composers. That feels right. It will also see the Hall hosting a video-game-themed costume contest and a meet-and-greet with top game composers. And if that doesn’t feel right, give it a few years. If the Pops does its job, the scores to the “Final Fantasy” series will fit nicely between Ellingston and Williams.

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