One of America's most venerable and best-known city orchestras, the Boston Pops, is letting its hair down.
Famous for light classical music and family pop tunes from decades past, the orchestra will perform with Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry at Boston's annual Independence Day concert on Tuesday.
The free outdoor show is part of the 121-year-old orchestra's move to to add more rock to its repertoire.
The Pops, comprised of the Boston Symphony minus its principal players, is perhaps best known for July 4th concerts along the Charles River that began in 1974 led by legendary conductor Arthur Fiedler and include stirring renditions of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and fireworks.
But hoping to dispel the notion that symphonies can do little more than produce elevator music versions of rock, the orchestra is teaming up with rock bands under its "Pops on the Edge," series that began in 2005.
Elvis Costello set the tone as guest artist at the opening of this year's Pops season with an acoustic set in May, featuring his hit "Alison," and a 15-minute piece from his 2004 score to Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Fresh from touring with Seattle grunge rockers Pearl Jam, the Kentucky quintet My Morning Jacket joined the orchestra at Boston's 106-year-old Symphony Hall in mid-June to formally open the Edge series.
They were followed by folk-rock singer-songwriter Aimee Mann in two performances last week.
Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart describes the sets as genre-bending. Pops' management say they are essential to the orchestra's future as it faces unrivaled competition for entertainment such as home theaters and downloaded music.
Pops attendance has slipped from a high of 93 percent of Symphony Hall's capacity in 2000 to 88 percent in 2005.
"This is a way to help ensure that the 20-somethings of today will remember who the Boston Pops are," said Dennis Alves, the orchestra's director of artistic planning.
Reviews of the "Edge" performances were as mixed as the crowd, where well-heeled season regulars rubbed shoulders with a scruffy generation who shouted requests to the stage and had mostly never set foot in Symphony Hall.
The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly, panned the orchestral treatments of My Morning Jacket.
"When you couldn't hear the Pops, as was the case for most of the concert, it was frustrating to watch — a great band playing for keeps but sounding suffocated, and a world-class orchestra almost completely drowned out," it said.