Monthly Archives: June 2016

Summer Pops Seasonal Programs

Summer begins today, this 20th day of June, 2016.

During my many years as an orchestra manager, here and abroad – in the Northern Hemisphere I might add, since seasons are diametrically opposed, say, Down Under! – it’s been my happy lot and privilege to usher in the warm, sunny season with programs calculated to inculcate the sheer joy of music in the hearts and minds of the immediate populace – the hoipolloi as well as the hoity-toity. That is no easy task, year after year, summer after summer, and the burden falls heavily on the music director, or particularly in larger orchestras on the Pops Conductor. Some, though – large or small – go ahead and invite a guest conductor to fill that role.

The really successful ones of that ilk are quite frankly difficult to find. Not so long ago, I stuck my neck out in the blogosphere to name the top ‘great’ orchestra conductors and, on going back to that posting, noticed to my chagrin that there was nary one of the several pops conductors amongst them whom I admire greatly.

Let me elaborate, if I may. In the past century, of which I am a product, I have worked with wonderful all-round musicians, who have excelled in the ‘pops’ field – and rightly so. Off the bat, let me expound on the two who left a deep impression on me:

fiedler2Arthur Fiedler (1930-1979) of the Boston Pops and Erich Kunzel (1935-2009) of the Cincinnati Pops. I have since admired their successors from afar, but have never had the opportunity of establishing any personal contact with them, as I did with Arthur and Erich.
As to Arthur, we traveled together mid-1970’s on a number of notable ‘runouts’ with the Rochester Philharmonic each summer all across Upstate New York.

November 11, 1976 at Rochester Airport, NY

azimandarthur

During those tours, I was the keeper of his magic potion – a hip flask containing a potent elixir (of the juniper variety!) that I delivered to him a minute or so before he bounded on to the concert stage to energize the awaiting musicians there as well as the many citizens of the town or city who crowded the auditorium to witness his baton-wielding shenanigans with astonishing brio and bravura. His ‘circular’ beat the orchestra deemed to be democratic, as you could jump in ad lib.

The Arthur era was followed by the innovations of John Williams (1980-1993) and starting 1995 the new-millennial Keith Lockhart, who is celebrating his 20th anniversary this year as maestro of the Pops. For the record, the Boston Pops is affectionately known as “America’s Orchestra.” Founded in 1885, it is the most recorded and arguably the most beloved orchestra in the country, beginning with the establishment of the modern-era Pops by Arthur. Switching to the present, Country superstar Dolly Parton kicked off the Tanglewood summer season this month on June 17.

kunzel2And then there was Erich. He was a joy to have as a traveling companion in my shining newly-acquired Black Beauty – A Buick Le Sabre – as we sped across the countryside to make our pop concerts well in time for a quick warm-up before curtain call. One thing Erich loved was to slake his thirst with a cold can of Stroh’s beer during our ride, and I must say I became addicted to it in favor of my usual Beck’s thanks to him. [After his death, Erich was succeeded at the Pops by John Morris Russell.]

As to the Cincinnati Pops, at the invitation of Arthur Fiedler in 1970, Kunzel guest-conducted over 100 concerts with the Boston Pops Orchestra. He remained active with symphony, leading the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra (as Principal Pops Conductor) from 1982 to 2002.

From the beginning, Kunzel strove to expand the Cincinnati Pops’ reach worldwide, with nearly 90 recordings on the Telarc label, most of which became bestsellers. His popular recordings of classical music, Broadway musicals, and movie scores topped worldwide crossover charts more than any other conductor or orchestra in the world.

The Cincinnati Pops were especially popular in Asia. The group toured Japan several times, starting in 1990. In 1998, Kunzel became the first American pops conductor to perform in China. Ten years later, he and the Cincinnati Pops were invited back to perform at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing; they were the only American orchestra to play at the event.

Afterword
Kunzel made most of his classical music recordings as director of the Cincinnati Pops. However, he also made jazz recordings with Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and other well-known artists. I’ll be dealing separately with my accounts on those two boldfaced stalwarts, each of whom I’d met much earlier in the 1960’s during their respective Indian tours, when I was the Concert Manager of the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra.

References
Personal Diary (1971-80); Wikipedia

 

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Musical Tribute to an Old Soldier

The past month has been a roller-coaster of emotions for me since the ‘fading away’ of my older brother, Misbah, back in my country of birth, India.

The above mp3 audio file, albeit brief, covers different and distinct aspects of his loves and ambitions. There was, of course, his foregone fealty for all things military tempered by his strong Christian belief in fairness even in battle, made more so because two of the three wars he took a vital part in were fought against our former pre-Independence brethren – Pakistan and East Pakistan (which later became independent Bangladesh.)

Not generally known was Misbah’s love of opera engendered by our father’s idols of Italian tenor Caruso and soprano Galli-Curci, 78 rpm recordings of whom were omnipresent in our household from an early age.

Caruso

Galli-Curci

He knew their arias well, but we were loath to tell him that we could do sans his bellowing out a la Caruso some of  the tenor’s gems  during his morning  shower – good delivery a tempo, but less so in pitch!  On a lighter note, he adored Neapolitan songs sung by the great tenor, his particular favorite being O Sole Mio (Victor 87243 recorded on February 5, 1916.) [As an aside, when he left the family roost for college, the morning quiet was unsettling to say the least.]

A constant for Misbah, no matter the hour, was  that before retiring for the night, he was ever faithful in praying bedside on his knees to the Almighty without a self-conscious thought in his head.

And then, as all who knew him, Misbah had a funny bone par excellence:  there were the lighthearted pranks he played on friend and foe alike followed by his infectious laugh that rose and fell leaving everyone no other course but to join in with good humor – no hard feelings all around!

Indeed, as I pen these thoughts, he’s probably still keeping St. Peter entertained with one-liners at the Pearly Gates.

 

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas