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:
Arthur 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
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.
And 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.
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.
Personal Diary (1971-80); Wikipedia
Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas