Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops, knows he's lucky to have Broadway singer Kelli O'Hara on the orchestra's Florida tour. "She's really on the top of her game after starring in The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific,'' Lockhart says. "That's the great thing about being the Boston Pops. People still want to perform with you. She is one of the few Broadway performers who has name value on her own right now.''
O'Hara and another Broadway actor-singer, Jason Danieley, headline a Cole Porter program with Lockhart and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, which has performances this week in Sarasota and Clearwater. They'll perform the standards.
"You can't leave those out, because then people hate you,'' Lockhart says. "Easy to Love. Night and Day. Begin the Beguine. You're the Top. In the Still of the Night. So in Love. It really is a treasure trove, right in the heart of the American songbook.''
The Pops takes a traditional approach to programming on tour, but it does more experimentation at home in Boston, playing with indie rock bands such as Guster and My Morning Jacket and singer-songwriters Natalie Merchant, Aimee Mann and Ben Folds.
"We float lots of trial balloons,'' says Lockhart, who recently conducted Porgy and Bess with Atlanta Opera. "They're not 100 percent successful. Many succeed in bringing a different sort of audience across our threshold. Whether we can sustain that audience becomes the question.''
Even the Boston Pops, one of classical music's most lucrative institutions over the years, has had to change with the times. "Everybody is under challenge in the performing arts right now,'' Lockhart says. "We're not immune to that. Over the last three or four years, we've toured a lot less than we did in the earlier part of my 16-year tenure. We record much less. We used to do recordings for RCA/BMG that sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and that's not the reality of the recording industry for anybody right now.''
The Boston Pops is mainly made up of members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the touring Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra is a separate group. "Nobody in the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra is a member of the Boston Symphony,'' Lockhart says. "This is the orchestra we use on the Esplanade in Boston for the Fourth of July concert. It's the pops orchestra that does all the touring. I've done 40 tours with the orchestra, and I've never toured with the Boston Pops Orchestra.''
Joseph Scheer, concertmaster of the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, is former concertmaster of the Florida Orchestra. An avid fisherman, Scheer is popular on the Florida tours.
"One of the times we were down there, Joe went fishing and caught some swordfish,'' Lockhart says. "He had the chef at the hotel prepare it, and 15 or 20 of us had a swordfish dinner, courtesy of Joe. That's the kind of concertmaster I like to have.''
The Pops play at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Van Wezel Hall. $30-$140. (941) 953-3368 or toll-free 1-800-826-9303; vanwezel.org. The program repeats at Ruth Eckerd Hall at 8 p.m. Wednesday. $63-$128. (727) 791-7400; rutheckerdhall.com.
Cutting edge at Ringling
Mikhail Baryshnikov was in Sarasota last weekend to announce the lineup of the third annual Ringling International Arts Festival. Sticking to its mandate to present cutting-edge, emerging artists, the festival will feature such performers as the avant-garde Wooster Group in a staging of Hamlet, incorporating film of Richard Burton's fabled 1964 Broadway production, and the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider.
The festival, co-produced by the Ringling Museum and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, has been extended by a day this year, and will be Oct. 11-16 at the Ringling Center for the Arts. In all, 34 performances will take place during the festival at the Historic Asolo Theater, the Cook Theatre and the Mertz Theatre.
Naturally, given Baryshnikov's involvement, the festival will have plenty of interesting dance, including Doug Elkins and Friends in Fraulein Maria, a take on The Sound of Music; Argentine singer Soledad Villamil and the dance duo Hermanos Macana; Irish step dancer Colin Dunne; and Company Stefanie Batten Bland in Terra Firma. Opening night will feature the Asphalt Orchestra, a 12-piece marching band. Other festival performers are Ethiopian singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero and a piano foursome — Inon Barnatan, Adam Golka, Anne-Marie McDermott and Pedja Muzijevic — in Czerny's Quatuor Concertant.
Multi-performance festival passes range from $168 to $304. Single tickets go on sale in early May. (941) 360-7399.
Horning in at the Palladium
The Florida Orchestra Brass Quintet is featured in this week's Encore concert. Trumpeters Rob Smith and Ken Brown, horn player Robert Rearden, trombonist Dwight Decker and tuba player Bill Mickelsen will range from Scarlatti (The Garden of Love) to Puccini (Musetta's waltz from La Boheme) to Rand Smith (Melocity) to Gershwin (Porgy and Bess) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Palladium Theater, St. Petersburg. $20. (727) 822-3590; mypalladium.org.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.