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Symphony Kicks of Summer Pops with a Bang

Symphony Kicks of Summer Pops with a Bang
The San Diego Symphony Summer Pops starts a new season of concerts. We speak with Pops conductor Matt Garbutt about the upcoming shows and this weekend's Star Spangled opener.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The San Diego Symphony Summer Pops Star-Spangled Pops is July 3, 4, and 5, 2009.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days in San Diego. A summer tradition returns this weekend as the San Diego Symphony Summer Pops kicks off its 2009 season. The mix of great musicianship and popular entertainment and an evening spent near the San Diego Bay have kept people coming back to the Pops year after year. And one of the people who keep coming back is my guest, San Diego Symphony Pops conductor Matthew Garbutt. He's here to tell us about the acts ahead this season, what he's looking forward to and even about a free concert. Matthew, welcome to These Days.

MATTHEW GARBUTT (Conductor, San Diego Symphony Pops): Thank you very much. A real pleasure to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know you're the principle Pops conductor and you're also the principle tuba player for the San Diego Symphony.

GARBUTT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, though, if you don't feel more like a showman than a classical musician when you're up there leading the Pops orchestra?

GARBUTT: Oh, that's a good question. Yeah, I do, actually. You know, there's a bit more of the entertainment involved with the Summer Pops. You know, I get to talk to the audience and joke and have some nice interplay back and forth, so it's a little bit different, especially than sitting and playing the tuba, that's for sure.

CAVANAUGH: That's right. And you're not one just to wave the baton around a little bit. You sort of get involved in the action.

GARBUTT: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Oh, definitely.

CAVANAUGH: Now the other symphony musicians who are, of course, part of the Pops orchestra, do they look at the Pops as a way to explore musical styles?

GARBUTT: Well, yes, I think that we have to, actually. You know, we play our regular classical music during the winter season and so things are a bit different for the summertime. Everything is kind of jazz and pop oriented, obviously, so, you know, our style has to change. And it's really fortunate here in San Diego, the musicians in our symphony are so flexible and so wonderful and so professional that it's a very easy transition for them. It's outdoors, you know, so the pressure's off kind of a little bit. It's in an absolutely beautiful venue to come to rehearsals and to performances. So it's a little bit lighter mood and so, therefore, it's, you know, it really starts to have a wonderful effect on everyone and it kind of trickles down, you know, and we all end up having a very good time out there. But the musicians here are – you know, a lot of them play in – do recording sessions and things like that and are involved in commercial music and things like this. A lot of them go up to Los Angeles and there's recording studios here in San Diego, so the orchestra is, a lot of the principle players especially, are very versed in many different kinds of styles so they know exactly what to do and, you know, rehearsals go very, very quickly and proficiently because it's, you know, everybody knows what to do. It's great.

CAVANAUGH: I want you to give us an idea of what you're looking for, too, in this season, in this Pops season.

GARBUTT: Well, there's a couple of things. I mean, I always look forward to it because I get to conduct a lot of the music that I really, really love, which is actually one of the ways I sort of based what I wanted to do this particular summer, which is, you know, well, I've been doing it for quite a long time now and I thought, well, what do I particularly want, feel like conducting? And so one concert especially I'm looking forward to is "The Pops Goes Classical" of all things. It's the one classical show we do…


GARBUTT: …during the year but this is going to focus on serious music, I mean, as serious as you can get with Puccini and, you know, Rossini and things like that. But that's going to be a wonderful program. We're doing the "Overture to La Gazza Ladra" and a couple of Puccini arias, and the main piece is the "Pines of Rome" with…


GARBUTT: …Ottorino Respighi, which is one piece I've always wanted to do, so I'm really looking forward to that. Also this year, we're focusing a little bit on the works of Gershwin, I decided.


GARBUTT: And so each one of our – like the first half of most of our guest artists, the orchestra plays a short first half, so this year I'm going to be doing some of the Gershwin Broadway overtures and the "Cuban Overture" and scenes from "Porgy and Bess" and things like that, so it's going to be a really nice summer.

CAVANAUGH: Speaking of your guest artists, you know, I wanted to play a clip from San Diego Symphony Pops show from last year which featured one of the original Supremes, Mary Wilson…

GARBUTT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: …as guest artist. I think this gives – this little bit of music, it gives an example of how the symphony orchestra blends with a guest in the popular music genre. So let me just play that.

(audio of clip from the San Diego Symphony Summer Pops featuring guest artist Mary Wilson)

CAVANAUGH: That's from last year, Mary Wilson and the San Diego Symphony Summer Pops.


CAVANAUGH: Doing a little conducting over there on that.

GARBUTT: I remember that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know what's really amazing is that you and the orchestra, you don't get a lot of time to rehearse with these guest artists, do you?

GARBUTT: Not usually. We have one rehearsal usually to prepare things musically like the first half of the show, for example, but then the guest artist comes in. Sometimes they don't even bring their music until they actually arrive in town. And everything gets passed out and we usually have a nice two and a half hour rehearsal with them and that's usually, you know, long enough to be able to get through the show.



CAVANAUGH: And the audiences, are they different for the guest artists or do you see a different demographic like when you have a tribute band to the Doors as opposed to someone from Motown come in?

GARBUTT: A little bit. You know, we have a very large subscription base, which is good, which is people that come to see all of the shows but the crowd differs bit by bit, you know, from show to show, so there's a bit of a different demographic but not too much, actually. It's pretty consistent.

CAVANAUGH: Now, of course, the great Marvin Hamlisch is conducting this weekend's opening…

GARBUTT: That's right.

CAVANAUGH: …of "The Star Spangled Pops." How did Marvin become affiliated with the San Diego Pops?

GARBUTT: Well, he started here – We really wanted to bump up the Winter Pops series. The Summer Pops has been flowing along very nicely for many years but the winter was lagging a little bit and so the symphony administration said, you know, let's do something, you know, that'll really bump this up and up it a notch, and they thought – They contacted Marvin. He was more than happy to do it. And since then our Winter Pops has gone up not only in popularity but also in attendance and things like that. So it was mission accomplished. Plus, it's really great to have a person of that kind of caliber here in town. I mean, Grammy Award winner, Tony Award winner, Oscar, you know, I mean, just unbelievable. And he always brings with him such an incredible professional air, you know, I mean, the orchestra sits down and he goes, okay, here we go, boom-boom-boom, and, man, it's done, you know. I mean, it's – he's wonderful and he's been really great for – He's a great personality to have also, you know, I mean, we just auctioned off an item where Marvin Hamlisch, myself and Ward Gill, the executive director of the orchestra, and members of the orchestra will actually come to your home. We're going to cook a meal for – the musicians are going to cook the meal and then afterwards they're going to play a concert. Ten thousand dollars, we raised for that.

CAVANAUGH: My goodness.

GARBUTT: It was absolutely wonderful. So that just goes to show what kind of influence he can have.

CAVANAUGH: Well, part – I don't know if you're going to be using that money but I know that a part of what the San Diego Symphony is doing for San Diego this summer is you're presenting a free concert in Balboa Park.

GARBUTT: That's right.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about that.

GARBUTT: Well, we've been doing this for a couple of years now and it has turned out to be a really wonderful thing for the public. We play at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, outdoors, and this time it's a wonderful show called – it's like an ET Extravaganza, "Extraterrestrial Extravaganza." We're doing all music from outerspace, you know, "Star Wars" and a couple of movements from "The Planets" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," music from "ET," the "Theme from the Jetsons." You know, "Stardust" of Hoagy Carmichael, you can get the idea.


GARBUTT: So – and "Star Trek" through the years, all the "Star Trek" themes and things like that. So we think that should be a really fun show for the public, young and old alike.

CAVANAUGH: That's coming up this month at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. And, you know, I – We don't have a lot of time to talk here but, you know, the Pops, people can check out the people who are coming on, the lineup for this season. I'm wondering, though, you always sort of have an arc, you know, you begin with the 4th of July, star spangled, you end with the 1812 spectacular.

GARBUTT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, how do you keep that fresh each year? How do you approach it? Because you've been doing this for a number of years now.

GARBUTT: Long time now. Well, it's actually – it's quite easy because each time that there's a different act or a different artist comes to town, it sets in motion, you know, what kind of show are we going to build around this? And then, you know, we come up with pieces that fit appropriately for the program. And each time it's a new artist so it's something new, so it really does – it does stay fresh. Plus, there's a lot of diversity in the summer. We do a lot of concerts where we do just one performance like on a Thursday evening, for example, we have the videogames live this year to coordinate with Comic-Con, that always happens during the week of Comic-Con. John Pizzarelli is here for a one-off program. Burt Bacharach is coming back once again. We have the music of the Doors. They're a wonderful tribute band that does wonderful – just like the Doors. We had Pink Floyd last year, which was Mayor Jerry Sanders, one of his favorite shows, by the way. He absolutely loved that show. So – But it's – and it is kind of an arc and it's really fun to sort of be overseeing the whole process of putting the whole thing together, you know, and watching how it's going to go from Point A to Point Z, as it were.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you for coming in and sharing that with us this morning.

GARBUTT: Certainly. It's always a pleasure, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And good luck with your season.

GARBUTT: Thank you. We should have some fun.

CAVANAUGH: The San Diego Symphony Summer Pops' "Star Spangled Pops" will be performed this weekend, July 3rd, 4th and 5th, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Embarcadero Marina Park South. And the San Diego Symphony free Park Concert is Sunday July 12th at 5:30 p.m. at the Spreckles Organ Pavilion. And you can find out more about the Summer Pops season at I've been speaking with San Diego Symphony Pops conductor Matthew Garbutt. Stay with us as These Days continues.