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Posted at 10:21 AM ET, 02/ 8/2011


By Anne Midgette

The NSO announced this morning the appointment of a new Principal Pops Conductor: Steven Reineke. Reineke brings fine credentials to the post, since he is also music director of the New York Pops, as well as being principal pops conductor with the Modesto Symphony and Long Beach Symphony. That's the kind of position Principal Pops Conductor is: you can hold down a lot of them at the same time.

Reineke will take over in September, at the start of the 2011-12 season. In addition to conducting, he is a composer and arranger; the NSO has played his "Casey at the Bat" and other works.

We don't cover many of the NSO pops concerts in the Washington Post: review space is limited, and it's always seemed to me that these concerts serve their function admirably without need for us to weigh in on how well or poorly they're doing it. They aren't usually my cup of tea, so I don't think my opinion about them would serve people who like this kind of music.

But I do think sometimes about their role. The idea was always that pops concerts would draw in new audiences, but like so many forms of classical crossover, they ended up, I believe, creating new audiences of their own. A couple of years ago I read an article about how the pops concert was dying out, and presenters were working to keep finding audiences for them -- though it seems to me that if a form of music conceived as popular entertainment is no longer popular, it should be allowed to follow its natural course.

How do you feel about pops concerts? Do you care at all if they continue? Are they a resource for developing new audiences or presenting different kinds of concerts? What would you like to see them do? Do you disagree with my disinclination to review them?

By Anne Midgette  | February 8, 2011; 10:21 AM ET
Categories:  news, random musings  
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I tend to avoid pops concerts, unless it's someone I want to hear/see. As a middle-boomer, the list is diministhing. In recent years, I've attended concerts with the likes of Tony Bennett, Dianne Reeves, and the Smothers Brothers. The pops concerts in Denver this season feature performers unknown to me, but the 30-somethings I know are familiar with them. I consider pops concerts a necessary evil, to subsidize classical music concerts. I don't even know if they try sneaking in classical repertoire in pops concerts anymore, or if that's been abandoned.

Posted by: bassoon5280 | February 8, 2011 10:38 AM | Report abuse

I agree with your disinclination to review the pops concerts. If a concert happened to contain some unusual music, such as a new commission, or had a guest soloist worth writing about, then a review might be interesting.

Posted by: jrpboston | February 8, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

No orchestra in America performs pops concerts because of an expectation that audiences for pops will migrate to concerts of classical music. That myth was disproven decades ago. Orchestras that take pops “seriously” do so because there is a world of interesting and appealing music available for orchestras to perform outside the classical music canon. This includes film and television music, popular song – both the American songbook and music from abroad, works from the musical theater, and, yes, light classics that have gone missing from mainstream classical music concerts. There is no denying the genius of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Nelson Riddle, John Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim – all of whose music has been featured on Steven Reineke’s programs with The New York Pops in the last year. There is also no denying the enduring popularity of thoughtful, well-programmed orchestral pops concerts. In the case of The New York Pops, ticket sales are up 15% during Steven Reineke’s two-year tenure. Don’t take my word for it. In April, Steven Reineke is conducting the NSO in a pops concert with the very contemporary multi-cultural ensemble Pink Martini. Do yourself a favor and witness 2,000 delirious members of the audience in a conga line and tell me then that pops is “dying out” and “no longer popular.”

Posted by: JimboJ | February 8, 2011 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I have no problem with Pops concerts as long as it doesn't take anything - resources, time & energy - away from the primary mission of the orchestra.

When I was a community orchestra musician, we didn't mind playing at Pops concerts classical warhorses, like Tchaikovsky Romeo&Juliet or 1812 overture. But we all hated playing typical "pops" music - it's not fun or rewarding. The exception for me was something the orchestra once did with real rock musicians, that was a lot of fun. But playing John Williams scores, movie music, pop song medleys? No thanks!

Posted by: c-clef | February 8, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm inclined to agree with everybody. Pops concerts aren't my cup of tea, except when there's a distinctive guest artist, but I do believe there's an intrinsic value to them.

The American songbook is an endangered species, threatened by changing tastes and a radically altered landscape on Broadway, but it numbers among its exponents some of the greatest talents this country ever produced, whose work rewards close attention. Even when divorced from its original context, this music can benefit, too, from the respect and affection accorded by well-trained musicians.

In some cases, pops concerts have opened my eyes and ears to performing artists I might have overlooked, ranging from Earl "Fatha" Hines (about whom I knew next to nothing at the time) and Roberta Flack, both of whom earned my enduring admiration.

Opera used to be a popular art form, too, and yet my friends and I defend it. I'm happy to do the same for pops concerts, albeit (usually) from a distance.

Posted by: WilliamMadison | February 8, 2011 1:26 PM | Report abuse

So who will play the light classics if neither the regular orchestral season, nor the pops play them? Arthur Fiedler used to do both light classics and song / Broadway stuff, but most of the pops repertoire is now almost exclusively the pops / Broadway stuff.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | February 8, 2011 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Having spent a number of years in Boston, some of my fondest memories were of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. I remember the head of the MGH laboratory I worked at purchasing us all a table and having a grand time listening to the performance of the orchestra. Of course, there were also the memorable evenings at the Hatch Shell on the Boston Esplanade watching the fireworks on the 4th. I guess the closest thing now is picnicking at Wolftrap. Such events need not be reviewed, but they should be encouraged. It may be the first time for many to be exposed to an orchestra and its potential for an enjoyable evening.

Posted by: donahues11 | February 9, 2011 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Dear Anne Midgette, I strongly and earnestly encourage you to review every pops concert if only because I would enjoy reading your reviews. Your writing style and knowledge are unique.

Posted by: pronetoviolins | February 9, 2011 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see both you and Alex Ross do a double-header of Pops reviews, only because I want to see what you both have to say about 'The Typewriter' and KISS Meets The Symphony, or whatever the Pops du Jour is.

But its an interesting point on whether criticism serves a point in a Pops concert- but if a Lady Gaga album warrants a lengthy review, does the mere fact that the intent of a Pops is to be popular warrant disqualification?

I used to have to attend Pops concerts fairly regularly for work and haven't been to a Pops of any stripe for probably at least six years, but all I remember is that I never want to hear the theme from Schindler's List or anything from Star Wars ever again.

Posted by: ianw2 | February 9, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

I live in Europe where the word "Pops" has never been translated, "Crossover" is used in the original spelling but pronounced while holding the nose and summer festivals usually play the same music as the rest of the year.
A few years ago I heard Dukas' "Sourcier's Apprentice" with Kurt Masur and the Orchestre National de France. What a remarkable work when played with the right rehearsal time and with respect for its musical content! Same with the "Scherezade" with Zubin Mehta and the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino a few weeks ago. Too bad they are segregated to the "Pops" bin in America.

Posted by: Frank991 | February 10, 2011 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Jimbo has it right: "Orchestras that take pops 'seriously' do so because there is a world of interesting and appealing music available for orchestras to perform outside the classical music canon." I have no patience with those who turn up their noses at Johann Strauss, Suppe, etc. Remember that Brahms once lamented that he couldn't compose waltzes like Strauss's.

I also have no patience with those who think a symphony concert is a failure if it doesn't include at least one work that calls for closed eyes and a cold towel across the forehead.

Maybe pops concerts don't promote attendance at regular symphony concerts, but when I lived in Boston, my friends and I migrated regularly and easily between the symphony (Charles Munch) and pops (Arthur Fiedler). The experiences were both different and similar and thoroughly enjoyable.

The term for "Pops" in Germany is "Unterhaltung." When I was chief of music for the American Forces Network, we regularly broadcast performances by the RIAS Unterhaltungs Orchestra as well as the RIAS Symphony under Fried Walter.

Posted by: wsheppard | February 11, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Correction to my earlier post: Ferenc Fricsay was the conductor of the RIAS Symphony in those days, and Fried Walter had the Unterhaltungs Orchestra. (Unterhaltung, by the way, means entertainment.)

I might also note that at one time the Boston Pops had more of the Mozart piano concertos in its repertoire than the parent Boston Symphony.

Posted by: wsheppard | February 11, 2011 11:56 AM | Report abuse

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