I was very fortunate to have very little disruption in travel, despite inclement weather in much of the country. My trip to New Jersey for a pair of concerts on March 9th and 10th to benefit the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, NJ was delayed a day, as our flight was postponed until the next morning. I performed as clarinetist with my brother Arthur as pianist, along with two excellent vocalists, Gary Mauer and his wife Beth Southard. I had worked previously with Gary, but collaborated for the first time with Beth. Their performance was first class, and Arthur did yeoman’s work in accompanying both the singers and me. A trip to New Jersey affords me the opportunity to see my mom, “Grandma Pearl”, and she enjoyed seeing her two boys performing together.
Shirley, Emily, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Sister Act at the Palace Theater in Cleveland the following Friday.
We were all looking forward to our “When Fred Met Ginger” concert scheduled for Friday, March 22 at Severance Hall, featuring singers/dancers Joan Hess and Kirby Ward. Thursday rehearsal went very well, and we were all excited about the concert. Joan and Kirby could not have been more delightful to work with, and their talents are indeed impressive. Our large audience was thrilled with the performance, as these two performers lit up the stage with their special brand of song and dance. In addition, 16 year old Jiana Peng, winner of the 14th annual Cleveland Pops Jean L. Petitt Memorial Music Scholarship Competition, wowed the audience with her fine performance of the first movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto.
On Sunday, March 24, the National Repertory Orchestra held auditions at the Cleveland Institute of Music for the position of assistant conductor for the 2013 summer season. The audition consisted of an interview, conducting session, and written test. 16 applicants were selected, coming from near and far, to participate in the audition. I was thrilled with the extremely high level of the conductors, which only made the selection that much more difficult. I finally selected Nicholas Hersh, a talented young man who is presently studying at Indiana University School of Music.
Holiday week was highlighted by a Passover Seder at our house with the Gabelman family, along with Sam Fuhrman, one of my masters students in orchestral conducting, and his wife Emily. Shirley did a fine job of preparing all the various dishes of the dinner, and we all enjoyed the evening.
The Seder necessitated a change in the CIM orchestra schedule, so we rehearsed Sunday evening instead of Monday. Our program features the dramatic Prokofief Symphony #5, and the orchestra worked diligently on this challenging and enormously rewarding piece. The symphony is 46 minutes in length, and is tremendously challenging both technically and musically. It also requires great concentration. Our pianist, concerto competition winner I-Chieh Wang, was beautifully prepared for the Grieg Piano Concerto, and our program opened with the lovely Prelude to Khovantchina by Mussorgsky. Our hard work paid off with a fine performance on Wednesday, March 27, to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience.
My family then took a mini-vacation to the New York area, where we visited my mom on Thursday and Friday in New Jersey. We went to New York on Saturday where we visited my stepbrother, his wife, and two of his boys, saw the Rodgers and Hammerstein revival of Cinderella (it was wonderful!), visited my daughter, son-in-law, and their 17 month daughter, Edie (serious cuteness!) who were in New York City, and had a scrumptious Turkish dinner. On Sunday, we had a great visit with my mom, sister-in-law’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, various relatives, and my daughter and her family. I took the opportunity to take lots of photos, including one of 4 generations – my mom, me, my two daughters, and granddaughter.
2013 has started out in a wonderful way with a series of exciting concerts. On January 26th, the CIM Orchestra performed with legendary vocalist Roberta Flack, to the delight of a large and appreciative audience.
The following weekend, I made my debut with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, trading snow and cold for sun and warmth. The Salute to Hollywood concerts that we performed included dynamic videos assembled by Pops board member George Veras. I had the opportunity to reunite with 14 National Repertory Orchestra alumni and 8 CIM alumni, some of whom had performed with both organizations. A visit to the Riverwalk, the Alamo, and the tower as well as 18 holes of golf were highlights. My concerts also included conducting music from Superman in my Superman costume.
The Cleveland Pops’ Valentine Fantasy featuring the multi-talented Janice Martin in a program that amazed our audience. Performing as violinist, pianist, and vocalist, Ms. Martin’s versatility was nothing short of astounding. Whether it was virtuoso violin performance, operatic or popular singing, or the technically demanding pianistic skills needed for Rhapsody in Blue, Ms. Martin was equal to the task. She even accompanied herself as guitarist for Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away from Me! As if that weren’t enough, Ms. Martin is an aerialist who plays the violin while suspended high above the ground. Although this feat was not possible at Severance Hall, she played the violin while leaning backwards upside down over a stool for our encore.
One side note which was most unusual – Pops President and CEO Shirley Morgenstern spotted Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg leaving Severance Hall before the encore. She ran after him, and convinced him to return to observe the encore, Monti’s Czardas, which Janice and I performed as a violin and clarinet duet.
Ms. Martin was a delight to work with. A meticulous and exacting performer, we worked carefully through each selection beforehand on matters including tempo, balance, and orchestration. She generously made herself available for a talk to the choir at Bedford High School, and worked with them, as well. Several students from Bedford High School took advantage of the Pops offer of complimentary tickets, and thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
A Valentine’s Day concert affords me the opportunity to wear my red jacket with a polka dot long tie and matching lining, which I was able to wear yet again; I traveled the next day to Youngstown to conduct a Valentine’s Day program with the Youngstown Symphony with two incredible singers, Lisa Vroman and Mark McVey, and wonderful pianist, Kathryn Brown, a colleague of mine at CIM. I again had a chance to wear my red jacket, and also played as clarinet soloist a medley of songs from 42nd Street, as arranged by Pops arranger Paul Ferguson. Kathryn played beautifully in a more standard rendition of Rhapsody in Blue than the previous night, and Lisa and Mark were nothing short of spectacular.
The next day I auditioned applicants for the conducting program at CIM, and then was off to Chicago for auditions for the National Repertory Orchestra. I heard 85 applicants, and enjoyed my annual Giordano’s pizza dinner with my friends Carol and Jim Setapen.
My afternoon Cleveland NRO auditions on Wednesday, February 13 were followed by a recital in Mixon Hall by my conducting student Deanna Tham, who did a very nice concert. My evening auditions were in the CIM percussion room, where I heard 14 timpanists and percussionists. My Thursday and Friday auditions were followed by trips to Sandusky, where the Firelands Symphony rehearsed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Tackling the 9th was a big step for the orchestra, and we worked diligently to make it come off. Our only time with the soloists and chorus was on Saturday, and the challenge, among other things, is to avoid straining the chorus in rehearsal.
Our four soloists, soprano Laura Pedersen, mezzo-soprano Samantha Gabbert, tenor Tim Culver, and baritone Timothy LeFebvre were splendid, and the Terra Chorale Society, 120 strong, conducted by Michael Shirtz, did a terrific job. We had our largest audience ever for a non-holiday concert, over 1,000, and they cheered long and loud at the conclusion of the performance. The concert started with Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, which was followed by his Hallelujah from the Mount of Olives, conducted by Michael Shirtz. The drive home, which usually takes an hour and 20 minutes, was over two hours, due to the snow and difficult road conditions.
On the next day, Sunday, February 17, I was back at CIM for more auditions for our conducting program. That evening I flew to New York for more NRO auditions. I listened to 118 applicants in 3 days, and was also able to take the train to New Jersey, where my brother Arthur picked me up to take me to dinner with my mom, sister-in-law Judy and Judy’s mom Renee. I also had a chance to meet my friend from high school, Jim Gleich, who, after listening to a few auditions with me, accompanied me to dinner at a Korean barbecue. We had a great visit, and enjoyed the food immensely.
I returned home and attended a recital by my conducting student Sam Fuhrman, whose concert came off very well.
On February 22, I traveled to Portland, Maine for a pair of concerts with the Portland Symphony. I was invited by Robert Moody, their music director, who is a former assistant conductor with the National Repertory Orchestra. Hank and Sue Smith, symphony supporters, picked me up and took me to lunch, and also showed me around town. The downtown is very nice, with lots of interesting shops and restaurants. We also stopped at a fish store, and saw lobster traps in the harbor. The Smiths then took me out to the lighthouse, and we saw where the waves of Hurricane Sandy had come crashing over the rocks. I spent the evening reviewing National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) audition recordings.
With one rehearsal for my Salute to Hollywood show, I knew that we had to work quickly. Carolyn, the operations manager, and Cookie, the personnel manager, were very helpful. The timpani player called in sick, so the percussionists scrambled to cover all the parts. I discovered three NRO members in the orchestra, as well as a Cleveland Institute alumna. Also, the parents of Rachel and Joel Negus, two of my CIM students, were playing in the orchestra.
Rehearsal started at 1:00, and things were going swimmingly until all of a sudden the fire alarm came on, and everyone had to evacuate the building. A fire truck came, and soon we were given the all-clear. We lost some rehearsal time, and now I was under the gun to get everything done, with a 20 minute break still to come. The orchestra is quite good, and as always, I did my best to avoid overtime. I had the option of going overtime, but knowing the financial straits that orchestras are in these days, I decided to see what I could do within the allotted time that I had. My plan was to leave the Psycho for last, since it uses only strings, so the orchestra wouldn’t have to pay all winds, brass, percussion, harp, and piano in the event of overtime. I managed to get everything done in time, and the staff was very happy.
This program was set for this weekend to coincide with Oscars weekend, and the audience was really into it. Included in the concert was a quiz, and we spread good will by giving free tickets to people who answered movie trivia questions correctly. The chief stage hand, Joe, is a movie freak, and he was thrilled to have the honor of conducting the Darth Vader Imperial March in costume. Little did he know that I would then come out in my Superman costume to do the Superman March, which was followed by the Cantina Band from Star Wars, which I played on a blue and red clarinet to match my costume. Other highlights included two local girls singing music from Lord of the Rings and Titanic, Paul Ferguson’s samba arrangement of The Godfather which I play as a clarinet solo, and music from Psycho, complete with blood- curdling scream.
The concert on Saturday lasted exactly 2 hours, which was encouraging, as I had a tight connection for my flight after Sunday’s concert. I awoke on Sunday morning to snow and fog, wondering if my flight would even take off. Carolyn took me to the airport before the concert, and I checked in, and got the lay of the land for my hasty retreat. The concert went very well, and I was in the car at 4:28 for the drive to the airport, dressed in my tuxedo shirt and pants and my polka dot tie. All the US Air flights were cancelled, but United was good to go, so we boarded to Newark for my connection to Cleveland. The connection was also on time, and I was really happy to finally be home after a hectic series of concerts.
I’m looking forward to the Pops’ upcoming “Fred and Ginger” concert on March 22nd!
The Cleveland Pops Orchestra’s annual New Year’s Eve concert is an event that
we look forward to every year. I had the occasion to work with vocalists Christiane Noll, Debbie Gravitte, and Doug LaBreque last December with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and knew that this dynamic trio would be a perfect fit for our concert. Christiane is presently in the show “Chaplin” on Broadway, and we were fortunate that New Year’s Eve came on a Monday night, making her available. I was anxious since she was unable to travel to Cleveland until the day of the performance, but fortunately there were no weather problems, and she arrived safe and sound, and on schedule.
The rehearsal went smoothly, and we were all anticipating a big evening. Everyone was in good voice, and the orchestra was also in fine form. We had a
wonderful dinner at the Severance Hall restaurant, and made final preparations
for the concert
I decided to wear the jacket that Joseph Scafidi made for me for last year’s
concert, a maroon coat with some sort of glitter, complete with a wild tie and
matching lining. During the concert, I got the chance to show off to the audience
the extremely colorful pattern on the inside of my Scafidi jacket.
We traditionally have started our New Year’s Eve concerts with the introduction to
Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, made popular in the movie “2001, A
Space Odyssey”. We start in the dark, and at the big climactic F major chord, the 2013 balloon pattern is illuminated.
The concert was spectacular, as our 3 vocalists sang superbly, and brought down
the house on several occasions. Debbie singing Memory, Christiane and Doug singing selections from Phantom – it doesn’t get better.
I got to play the Gershwin arrangement for clarinet and orchestra that Paul
Ferguson wrote for me – what a kick to perform as soloist with the Cleveland
Another Pops tradition has the audience accompanying the orchestra on their paper horns for Josef Strauss’ Feuerfest Polka. I also had them “playing” on 76 Trombones in our Music Man medley. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, though the noise did get a little excessive and overly boisterous.
The post concert dancing and the balloon drop were great, and the majority of our
audience stayed to usher in the New Year – I really enjoy doing the countdown! I lead the combo of Pops musicians playing in the rotunda, and the 5th Avenue Band in the Smith Lobby was well received. Highlights of our dance music included the Mexican Hat Dance, the hora, a conga line, and the polka! I snuck downstairs, and was delighted to observe people dancing and jiving to the music.
Our family spent a few days in New York, where we took in the sights as well as a
couple of Broadway shows. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is incredible, and I especially enjoyed the musical instrument displays. We stopped at
Rizzoli Book Store on 57th Street, where I bought some books and
videos, and had a nice conversation in Italian with one of the clerks, recently
arrived from Sicily. A walk down 5th Avenue is always fun. I had my
first experience with the Stardust Diner, where the waiters and waitresses are
aspiring Broadway singers. We heard some wonderful signing, especially a young tenor who was stupendous!
My daughter Emily has become a complete and total “Newsies” fan! We all loved the show, and the dancing is just incredible. “Nice Work If You Can
Get It”, starring Matthew Broderick and Kelly O’Hara, was delightful.
We then visited my family in New Jersey, and especially enjoyed visiting with my
mom, “Grandma Pearl”, who will be celebrating her 100th birthday in
This holiday season has been particularly rewarding, as I had the opportunity to conduct 7 holiday concerts, in 5 programs, with 4 different orchestras.
The Cleveland Pops annual holiday concert has traditionally taken place on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This year’s concert included several selections featuring the Cleveland Pops Chorus. Following the success of its premiere performance on our opening concert on November 2, the chorus acquitted itself splendidly in traditional holiday music as well as excerpts from John Williams’ soundtrack from Home Alone. Vocalists Tina Stump, Sophie Madorsky, and Gordon Leigh Petitt were splendid in selections from Toy Story, “Through the Eyes of Love” from Ice Castles and The Grinch respectively. After relating to the audience some of the traditions of Hanukkah, I played my arrangement of Hanukkah favorites, which I call “A Clarinet Hanukkah”. Appearances by Fox 8 weathermen Dick Goddard and Scott Sabol livened up the festivities and our annual sing along gave the audience a chance to participate. The role of Santa Claus was played by Tony Lisak, who was available at intermission for photos, and gave out candy canes to audience members during the sing along. Also, eight different animal shelters were represented in the lobby, and many dogs and cats found their “forever home”. We would like to offer our sincere thanks to Wells Fargo Advisors for serving as our sponsors for this concert.
My dear friend and colleague Ted Kuchar invited me to appear as guest conductor for the Fresno Philharmonic’s holiday concert, so on Thursday, November 29th, I headed west. After a nice dinner at Carraba’s near the airport to celebrate my daughter Emily’s 16th birthday, I boarded a flight to Fresno, California through Denver, and went to sleep at about 3:00 AM Cleveland time. I was looking forward to some California sun, but it was cloudy and rainy for the two days that I was there. Rehearsals went well, and I enjoyed working with their orchestra and chorus. The chorus director, Anna Hamre, had done an excellent job preparing her ensemble, and their enthusiasm and esprit de corps was heartening. I had conducted the Fresno Philharmonic before, and have always had a good experience. There were also two National Repertory Orchestra alumni playing, clarinetist Peter Nevin and violinist Shoanie Young. All the details of the concert were handled most efficiently by Stephen Wilson, their new executive director, and the concert went very smoothly. The Minuet from the Toy Symphony, for which I take children from the audience and teach them to play their parts on stage, is unique at every performance; the girl playing the duck call laughed so hard that every time I cued her, she was unable to make a sound.
On Saturday, December 8, the Cleveland Pops Orchestra returned to Avon Lake High School for its annual holiday concert. Bill Zurkey, director of the Avon Lake Choir, does such wonderful work that we selected him as founding conductor of the Pops Chorus; this brand new ensemble has flourished under his leadership. The concert featured the Avon Lake Choir, who once again wowed the audience with its excellent work. Our tradition of starting the concert with the choir singing an a cappella selection in the concert hall, and then processing to the stage to sing Oh Come all ye Faithful, was equally effective this year. The program included a group of a cappella selections sung by the Merples, a group of about 20 singers, under Bill’s direction. A suite from the movie Polar Express has been one of our staples of the holiday repertoire; for this concert, our assistant conductor, Donna Jelen, conducted. Though she is expecting her first child in early January, she led the orchestra with clarity and enthusiasm. The Night Before Christmas was narrated effectively by Ron Jantz, an Avon Lake resident and former sports newsman for WKYC Channel 3. The Toy Symphony was played by members of the chorus, and the audience participated in the sing along with gusto.
On Sunday, December 9, the Firelands Symphony, based in Sandusky, performed its annual holiday concert. Lynne Wintersteller, a native of Sandusky who enjoys a major career as a singer and actress, returned to lend her prodigious talents to our concert. A chorus from Sandusky High School, Perkins High School, and St. Mary’s High School, was assembled for the occasion, and their performance was a delightful addition to our concert. Projections for Nutcracker excerpts, Polar Express, and the sing along were run by Sam Fuhrman, one of my conducting students from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and these images helped to enhance the listening experience for our audience. The orchestra enjoyed the largest audience in its history, virtually selling out the 1200 seat auditorium. The orchestra loved playing for such a large and appreciative audience, and the performance put everyone present into a fine holiday spirit.
The Akron Symphony Orchestra invited me to lead their holiday concerts, which took place at the Chapel in Green on Wednesday, December 12, at the Akron Civic Theater on Thursday, December 13, and at Medina High School on Friday, December 14. Our rehearsals were held in Green, as that was the site of our first concert. I’ve conducted the orchestra for their holiday concerts on several occasions, and many of my present and past CIM students, as well as some Cleveland Pops musicians, play in the orchestra.
For all of my holiday concerts this year, except for Avon Lake, I start in darkness, with the chorus singing holding electric candles. The effect is quite stunning, and we’ve received many compliments for this atmospheric opening. In fact, in order for me to be seen, I conduct with a candle. At the conclusion, we segue to a lively opening number – this year’s selections were “We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame with the Cleveland Pops, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” in Fresno and Sandusky, and “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” from Home Alone with the Akron Symphony. The Akron Symphony Chorus, under the expert direction of Maria Sensi Sellner, is a fine ensemble, and I have enjoyed working with them in past seasons; this year was no exception. In Green, the outstanding chorus from Green High School sang an cappella selection, and then joined us for Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. We did the Hallelujah Chorus in Fresno, with the Firelands and Akron Symphonies, and the audience stood with the opening measures. I explained in the second half of the program that the origin of the tradition of standing during the Hallelujah Chorus occurred at the first performance; the King of England was so impressed, that he stood. Well, when the King of England stands, everyone else stands, so that’s how it all started. Several chorus members from Green High School participated in the Toy Symphony, and we had a lot of fun with that.
The Akron Civic Theater in downtown Akron is a classic grand old theater, and it was my first time performing there. The auditorium at Media High School is a beautiful concert hall with excellent acoustics. For all the performances, I go into the audience for the sing along, and have audience members sing into the microphone. For all the Akron concerts, Gerard Gibbs, Artistic Administrator for the Akron Symphony, was helpful every step of the way, even dressing up as Santa Claus for the performances!
Many thanks to Pops librarian Matt Salvaggio, Fresno librarian Cathi Tudman, Firelands librarian Jody Chafee, and Akron librarian Corey Smith for their assistance in making sure all the right music wound up in the right folders!
Thanks to everyone who helped make these concerts go without a hitch!
My best wishes to all for a great holiday season, and a happy and healthy new year!
I look forward to seeing you on New Year’s Eve for the Cleveland Pops Orchestra’s annual concert at Severance Hall!
After an exciting summer of concerts with the National Repertory Orchestra in Breckenridge, Colorado, followed by a family vacation in the Provence region of France, the fall concert season has been a busy and stimulating time. The Cleveland Pops’ annual Labor Day Concert in Elyria Town Square was well received, and we always enjoy playing for the large and appreciative audience. Our special guest vocalist for the concert was 11 year old Isabel Moner. Isabel sang with the Cleveland Pops at Severance Hall when she was 7 years old, and recently performed in Evita on Broadway.
On October 27, the Pops’ held its annual fund raiser, the G Clef Ball, and honored Cuyahoga County Commissioner Ed FitzGerald. The gala evening, which was held at the Intercontinental Hotel, featured a mini-concert, dancing to the orchestra, dinner, and silent auction. The concert portion of the evening included a return performance by Isabel Moner as well as Mr. FitzGerald’s contribution playing the temple blocks for Leroy Anderson’s Syncopated Clock.
We were all anticipating the debut performance of the Cleveland Pops Chorus at Severance Hall on November 2nd. The chorus rehearses each Monday evening under its director, Bill Zurkey, at Cleveland State. My schedule at the Cleveland Institute of Music had kept me from attending rehearsals until the week before the concert, and when I was finally able to attend, I was really impressed by the chorus’ sound. Bill has done wonderful work, and the members were really looking forward to singing with the Cleveland POPS Orchestra.
I also worked with our two vocal soloists, Joan Ellison and Connor O’Brien, who are also looking forward to singing with the Pops in Severance Hall. I also paid a couple of visits to Pops principal trombone and arranger Paul Ferguson to map out and refine an arrangement of Gershwin songs for clarinet and orchestra.
Our concert on November 2nd, witnessed by a large and enthusiastic audience, proved to be a dramatic opening to our season. The chorus acquitted itself splendidly in music from Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma, Rent, Carousel, and others. Joan and Connor were terrific as both soloists and in duet in music from Anything Goes, Guys and Dolls, Company, Wicked, and others. In addition, one the co-winners of the Pops’ 2011 Jean L. Petitt Scholarship Competition, 16 year old Sophie Madorsky, wowed the crowd with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. I had a great time playing the Gershwin arrangement, and the orchestra played beautifully on its own in a medley of the music of Marvin Hamlisch as well as one from Les Miserables.
We are now preparing for our Holiday concert on November 25th at 2:00 at the Palace Theater, which will also feature the Pops Chorus, our annual holiday concert at Avon Lake High School, and our annual New Year’s Eve celebration at Severance Hall.
Thanks to everyone who has worked so diligently to make this all happen, our orchestra, staff, board and donors, and to our audience for their loyalty and support.
The last four weeks have been particularly exciting for me, as I had the opportunity to conduct four programs in four cities and three countries.
First up was a concert with the Firelands Symphony on April 14 in Sandusky, OH, which featured internationally renowned dramatic soprano Jane Eaglen and the Terra Choral Society, under the direction of Michael Schirtz. The program included beloved arias, choruses, and orchestral works from the operatic repertoire. This concert was the first appearance for Ms. Eaglen after a serious illness, and she was in excellent voice. The chorus was expertly prepared by Mr. Schirtz, and the concert was very well received. Selections included music by Puccini, Wagner, Verdi, and Mascagni, and concluded with a rousing chorus from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor.
On April 21, the Cleveland Pops Orchestra presented a concert entitled ” A Song and a Dance”, with vocalists Jennifer DeDominici and Daniel Fosha and the Neos Dance Company, based in Ashland,OH. This concert included music of Broadway, with songs by Porter, Webber, Sondheim, Bernstein and others, and dance selections by Rodgers, Hamlisch, Bernstein, and the team of Kander and Ebb. I also had the opportunity to play one of my favorite numbers, “Clarinetist on the Roof”, complete with Bottle Dance and my original cadenza, which included a shofar call. Our young singers distinguished themselves with their wonderful singing, and the dancers, led by Brooke and Bobby Wesner, were exquisite.The sold-out audience was enthusiastic and appreciative of our talented guests, as well as our spectacular orchestra. I had worked with Jen and Dan last summer in Colorado, and was extremely impressed with their extraordinary voices and emotional involvement. They are easy and fun to work with, and I enjoyed their work immensely.
I traveled north of the border to Hamilton,Ontario for a concert entitled “When Swing was King”, A concert title I borrowed from the Cleveland POPS marketing director Gordon Petitt. Shirley and Emily accompanied me, and we were able to stop on the way at Niagara Falls, the power and grandeur of which is always awe-inspiring. I have enjoyed my work in Canada, having conducted previously in Winnipeg and Calgary, and have appreciated the hospitality from our neighbors to the north. I collaborated with Helen Welch, a marvelous jazz vocalist originally from England and now an American citizen residing in Ohio. It’s always a slightly anxious time when you have only one rehearsal with an orchestra that you’ve never worked with, in a program which requires an excellent rhythm section and strong brass playing. I wasn’t disappointed at all, as the veteran drummer, Ernie Porthouse, who was featured in Sing, Sing, Sing, was more than up to the task, and pianist John Sherwood was an expert accompanist for Stardust. I took advantage of the opportunity to play my red clarinet with wearing my red jacket in the first half of the concert, and my blue clarinet and matching blue jacket in the second half. Helen was not only in fine voice, but also interacted with the audience with her charming British humor. Upon returning to Cleveland, I was able to hear my daughter Emily’s string quartet in concert, performing a movement from a Mendelssohn string quartet. I was very proud of her performance and her progress in her violin studies.
My engaging four weeks concluded with a trip to Caracas,Venezuela for a concert with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela. The musical scene in Venezuela is really extraordinary, in a large part due to El Sistema, a method started in the 1970s by Jose Antonio Abreu, which supplies instruments and instruction to hundreds of youngsters from every economic background. There are hundreds of orchestras in Venezuela, in no small part to the amazing Mr. Abreu. This opportunity was possible thanks to my dear friend, colleague, and former student Ted Kuchar, who is the orchestra’s new music director. I had been working on my Spanish with one of my students at CIM, and also assisted Emily at times with her Spanish studies at Beachwood High School. I’ve done rehearsals in Spanish in the past, but it’s been years, so I was determined to study to be able to do so in Caracas. The music world is small, and my college friend from many years ago is the retired principal flutist and current music librarian with the orchestra, so it was great to work with him and see him again. Also, the concertmaster studied at The University of Michigan with my CIM colleague Paul Kantor, and his brother, currently performing and teaching in Caracas, was a former cello student at CIM. Additionally, two of the brass players in the orchestra are brothers of a former NRO clarinetist who is now in the Atlanta Symphony.
There were two soloists for the concert, the principal flutist of the orchestra who played the Griffes Poem, and the principal clarinetist, who played the Copland Clarinet Concerto. It was an all-American concert, and the orchestra really enjoyed playing the music of Williams, Gershwin, and Cole Porter, in addition to the aforementioned works. My collaboration with the clarinetist Mark Friedman was particularly special, as Mark is a fellow New Yorker and Juilliard graduate who has worked in Caracasfor 31 years.
As it turned out, I was able to rehearse completely in Spanish, which was really appreciated by the orchestra. We had a very nice rapport, and our hard work came to fruition for the concert. The accompaniment for the Copland Clarinet Concerto is fiendishly difficult, and the string players put forth a great effort to be able to cope with the difficult rhythm and intonation issues.
All in all, these past four weeks were most engaging, and I’m now looking forward to our final Cleveland Pops concert, the annual Salute to the Armed Forces on Friday, May 25 in Severance Hall.
The Cleveland POPS’ concert of March 24, 2012 a Salute to John Williams was completely sold out! Our large and enthusiastic audience was captivated by the incredible genius of his American icon. The orchestra really had a chance to shine, as it performed a wide variety of styles, from the NBC News theme, called “The Mission” to E.T.!, to a medley of selections from Star Wars. Featured were saxophone virtuoso Howie Smith in a performance of Escapades from Catch Me If You Can, principal
trumpeter Gary Davis playing the intense music from Born on the Fourth of July,
and our guest Star Wars reenactors, who were seen both on stage and in the lobby for photos. I had the opportunity once again to wear my Superman costume, and to play my red and blue clarinet for Cantina Band from Star Wars. Also featured was our scholarship competition winner Kaley Ann Voorhees, whose performance of Glitter and Be Gay from Bernstein’s Candide brought down the house.
The following morning, I took a flight to Asheville, North Carolina, where I led a performance with the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra. The repertoire included Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and the Ginastera Harp Concerto, with CIM concerto competition winner Shelly Du. It was the first time that the CIM Orchestra had played on tour, and the young musicians’ spirited playing was hailed by the appreciative audience. An added bonus was the opportunity to see my 5 month old granddaughter Edie, as my return flight had a 3 ½ hour layover in Charlotte. We repeated this performance on March 28 at CIM; it was great to have a chance to play this great music a second time, and the orchestra, I think, felt a real confidence at this performance.
We are looking forward to our next concert, “A Song and a Dance” at Severance Hall on April 21, as the Cleveland POPS will collaborate with the brilliant NEOS Dance Company and exciting young vocalists Jennifer DiDominici and Daniel Fosha.
More soon on next month’s activities, which will includeconcerts with the Cleveland Pops, Firelands Symphony, Hamilton (Ontario) Philharmonic, and Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela.
The Cleveland Pops Orchestra is still glowing from its
recent concert with The Texas Tenors on Saturday, March 3. The evening on all accounts was a great success, as Marcus, JC, and John lent their enormous talents in music from Country to Opera, from Rocky Top to Nessun Dorma.
The audience was captivated by their vocal prowess and charm. I got a big kick out of playing “country clarinet” on a rousing chorus on Rocky Top.
We are currently busy preparing for our Salute to John Williams,
coming up on March 24. The concert will feature “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I believe that this will be the
first performance of the new edition being released by Hal Leonard Music. The concert is virtually sold out, and will feature trumpeter Gary Davis, saxophonist Howie Smith, and Star Wars characters.
This past week, the Cleveland Institute of Music hosted a
Conductors Guild Workshop, for which 14 conductors from various locations
converged on Cleveland for three days of tutelage with clinicians Theodore
Kuchar, Sasha Makila, and myself. They received a significant amount of podium time with the CIM Orchestra, as well as lectures regarding string techniques, effective rehearsal practices, and making one’s way in a difficult profession. It
was rewarding to see the improvement in our participants, as they responded to
suggestions and new ideas.
My other musical activities featured a Valentine’s Day
Salute with vocalist and Tony Award winner Michael Maguire with the Youngstown
Symphony, and a concert featuring harpist Cheryl Losey in a performance of the
Ginastera Harp Concerto with the Firelands Symphony.
In addition, I have been reviewing approximately 800 auditions for the National Repertory Orchestra’s upcoming season this summer. These auditions took me to Chicago and to New York; while in New York, I enjoyed our family reunion as well as a delightful performance of How to Succeed in Business with Nick Jonas in the lead role.
My upcoming Cleveland Institute of Music activities include
a performance with the CIM Orchestra on March 25 in Ashville, NC, and a repeat
performance on March 28 at CIM. The concert with include Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and the Ginastera Harp Concerto, this time with CIM concerto competition winner Shelly Du.
More soon on next month’s activities, which will include
concerts with the Cleveland Pops, Firelands Symphony, Hamilton (Ontario)
Philharmonic, and Orquesta Sinfonica de Venezuela.
The Cleveland POPS Orchestra rang in the New Year with its 16th annual
concert and dance at Cleveland’s world class Severance Hall. It was indeed an extraordinary evening, featuring our guest artists, The Three Phantoms. Craig Schulman, Ciaran Sheehan, and Gary Mauer thrilled the sold out crowd with their beautiful singing, charismatic personalities, and wry sense of humor. The orchestra was in rare form, accompanying the singers with sensitivity, and performing the orchestral selections with excitement and panache. The two bands, City Heat in the Smith Lobby, and The Cleveland POPS All Stars in the Rotunda, were well received by audience members who danced the night away with enthusiasm and revelry. The midnight balloon drop in the Rotunda was a highlight, as usual.
The singers each performed selections individually, and also sang as a trio. Craig’s “Bring Him Home,” Ciaran’s “Maria,” and Gary’s “Joanna/Pretty Women” were among the many solo highlights, and their trio version of “Music of the Night” was something extraordinary. The orchestra acquitted itself splendidly in a new John Williams Medley, and it was a treat for me to perform with the orchestra as clarinetist in Paul Ferguson’s excellent “42nd Street Medley.” The audience was in rare form, as they blew their horns (on my cue, for the most part) in “Feuerfest Polka” and “Mambo” from West Side Story, and Mell Csicsila was an expert pop gun performer in Strauss’ “Champagne Polka.” Dr. Arthur Topilow made his annual trek from New Jersey to perform as the orchestral pianist, and joined trumpeter Jack Schantz, trombonist Paul Ferguson, drummer George Judy, bass guitarist Dean Newton, and me as clarinetist in the Rotunda for post concert dancing. I always enjoy leading the countdown to the New Year!
I’d like to thank our audience for joining us for this special evening! We always love performing to a large and animated audience, and this year’s sellout crowd was particularly inspiring.
We look forward to our upcoming concerts, The Texas Tenors on March 3, a Salute to John Williams on March 24, A Song and A Dance on April 21, and our annual Salute to the Armed Forces on May 25. We hope to see you often at the POPS!
After the Cleveland Pops’ most enjoyable holiday concert on November 27, the
Cleveland Pops played its annual holiday concert on December 3 at Avon Lake High
School, which featured the Avon Lake Choir under the direction of William
Zurkey and the Pops debut of vocalist Tina Stump. The choir sang John
Rutter’s beautiful Gloria with style, clarity, and enthusiasm, under Mr.
Zurkey’s dynamic direction. Ms. Stump proved to be a big hit in two songs
from Toy Story, along with a stirring rendition of Go Tell it on the Mountain.
I heard her in the Beck Center’s fine production of Hairspray last summer, and
knew that she would be an excellent addition to our holiday concert.
The following day I took a very long flight to Hong Kong,
where I spent three days as guest conductor with the Hong Kong Phil. I conducted two concerts with three of my favorite Broadway performers, Christianne Noll, Debbie Gravitte, and Doug LaBreque. It was a whirlwind trip – it would have been great to arrive earlier and stay longer, but obligations on either end of the trip made it impossible. The audiences were very enthusiastic, and we did three encores! In addition to conducting, I performed the 42nd Street Medley as clarinetist that
Paul Ferguson wrote for me a few years ago. Upon entering the hall for rehearsal, one of the orchestra’s bassoonists, Vance Lee, introduced himself, or should I say reintroduced himself. Vance was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1989 to 1993, and played in the National Repertory Orchestra, my summer festival, in 1994. Gradually I discovered that eight alumni of the NRO and five alumni of CIM are members of the orchestra! We had a lovely lunch the following day, and
it was great to see so many familiar faces.
I literally went from the podium to the airport, where I caught a 1:00 AM flight to San Francisco; I then connected on a red eye to Cleveland. Shirley, Emily, and I
attended a Cleveland Orchestra concert that evening, with the talented Marin
The next day was spent in rehearsal with the Firelands Symphony in Sandusky for our annual holiday concert with the wonderful Lynne Wintersteller as guest artist. Lynne is
a native of Sandusky, and this concert marked her third consecutive year
singing at our holiday concert. The concert on Sunday was very successful; in addition to Lynne’s spectacular performance, we used film clips from movies along with the music from several popular holiday movies, supplied by Cleveland Pops board member and TV producer George Veras. Lynne’s performance of the Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t be Late” featured a chorus played by our wind players on kazoos.
My busy holiday season continued with performances with the Akron Symphony at the Chapel in Green, EJ Thomas Hall in Akron, and Medina Performing Arts Center. Tina Stump again sang beautifully, and it was a treat to work with the Akron Symphony Chorus, under the outstanding direction of their chorus master, Maria Sellner. The song Hanukkah Lights, which was new to me, turned out to be very well received by the audience. It was written by composer Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote Chorus Line and many other shows, and performed by vocalist Gillian Hassert. Gillian also sang Jingle Bell Rock with me at the end of my Clarinet Christmas medley. The orchestra played very well, and it was a treat to perform with so many former students and colleagues, many of whom have also played with the Pops.
I’m now looking forward to ringing in the new year with
the Cleveland Pops and our annual New Year’s Eve concert and dance. Our special guests this year are the Three Phantoms, with whom I worked in Fresno last February. Their excellent show inspired me to have them join us, and we expect an exciting concert, followed by dancing, coffee and desserts, and our midnight balloon drop!
I especially look forward to our New Year’s Eve pianist, my brother Dr.
Arthur Topilow, who has been playing for our New Year’s Eve concerts since
2005. Not only does he play in the orchestra for the concert, but he also performs with the combo for dancing in the Grand Foyer. He is joined each year
by his wife, Dr. Judy Topilow, who also makes the trip from New Jersey.