The Boston Pops return this Thursday for its first in-person spring season in three years.

For a preview of the upcoming highlights, Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart joined Boston Public Radio, where he also talked about the joys of returning to live, in-person performances. “We're so excited to be back performing for people in something that at least resembles a normal schedule,” Lockhart said.

The restrictions that the pandemic put on performing in front of live audiences was challenging for Lockhart and the musicians he works with. “It was a tough run,” he said. “When you do something constantly for the last 40 years of your life, you begin to define yourself by it, and all of a sudden it's not there.”

Lockhart said the pandemic gave him an added appreciation for his work. “I will never take for granted the blessing of being able to perform music for people again because, whoever thought it would be taken away?” he said. “The audience is part of the performance, they're part of the shared emotional experience. We can feel that they're there. And it's a very different feeling and frankly, not in a good way, when we're performing for cameras to be distributed virtually.”

Still, Lockhart said he found silver linings in his virtual performances. Tracking ticket sales for remote concerts, he found that two-thirds of people who purchased tickets for the virtual 2020 Holiday Pops show were newcomers.

The Pops kick off the spring season with a tribute to composer Alan Menken, whose work spans on screen and off-Broadway hits — from "The Little Mermaid" to "Little Shop of Horrors."

“[Menken] we're figuring out is really intergenerational,” Lockhart said. “When I first said that, somebody said, ‘Oh, that's a kid's show.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, the kids who watched "Little Mermaid" when it came out on the big screen, they now have their own 10-year-olds.’”

The spring season also includes a 90th birthday tribute to Oscar-winning composer John Williams, which will feature some of his blockbuster scores. The Pops will also celebrate jazz giants Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Christopher Jackson, who originated the role of George Washington in "Hamilton," will also bring his sensibility to the stage, performing some of his favorite songs.

“It should be a lot of fun,” he said. “It's so wonderful to have it back. As I said, I will get up and I will be thankful every morning that I get to go do a concert for people and touch them or reach them in some way.”

Lockhart is the conductor of the Boston Pops. The Boston Pops spring season runs May 19 - June 11.