Managing Director, Boston Symphony Orchestra
When Mark Volpe came from Detroit to take the helm at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1999, Justine Liff was one of the first people who came to see him. “She came with a mission”, Volpe says of the late Boston parks commissioner. “One of her great ambitions was to have the Boston Pops come back and play again in Franklin Park.”
During the tumultuous 60’s, the Pops performed there and the concert did not go well, as the city struggled with urban unrest and racial conflict. Despite widespread initial skepticism more than 30 years later, Liff was determined to reverse that course. “We had many meetings with all the city people. It was clear she was respected by everyone,” the BSO’s Managing Director recalls. “Justine transcended boundaries. She wanted what she wanted – she wanted the Pops to play in Franklin Park.”
So did Volpe, and they worked together to bring it off just a year after their first meeting. When the orchestra finally performed in an eclectic program ranging from John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare” to the city-wide gospel choir’s Gospel Medley in July 2000, the response was overwhelming — and positive.
“Justine created something special and her legacy lives on through music in the parks,” Volpe says. “She was a big believer in how important music is to bring people together and the BSO is continuing that tradition.”
Whether it’s the Pops at the Hatch Shell for the Fourth of July or a brass quintet playing at Pinebank Promontory during the Conservancy’s Summer on the Emerald Necklace, Volpe believes bringing music to the city’s public parks has a profound influence because live performance ultimately transcends language, racial and cultural barriers.
Volpe contends that’s why parks are important, a fact that is underscored for him through his personal connection to the William Devine Golf Course in Franklin Park since that memorable Pops concert. An avid golfer, he has played many rounds there, sometimes with his friend, the late Mayor Tom Menino.
Mark takes the opportunity to walk to meetings and events every chance he gets so he can enjoy the spectacular views of nature amidst the city. A stroll through the Fens on the way to the MFA or a walk down Commonwealth Avenue through the Public Garden and Boston Common to get downtown helps him clear his head and relax. “Boston is such a beautiful city, in large part because of its parks,” he said.
Volpe photo: Marco Borggreve