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Music: Conducting The Summer Pops

Music: Conducting The Summer Pops
As the San Diego Symphony kicks off its centennial season, we'll talk with two of the conductors for the Symphony's 2010 Summer Pops season. The legendary Marvin Hamlisch joins us to talk about conducting the "Star Spangled Pops" and Randall Fleischer talks about the popular "Bravo Broadway Rocks" shows in August.

San Diego Symphony's Bridgepoint Education Summer Pops continues weekends though September 5th at the Embarcadero Marina Park downtown. The next performance is this weekend, July 2-4, with "Star Spangled Pops With Marvin Hamlisch."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): The Fourth of July weekend is the usual kick off of The San Diego Symphony Summer Pops season. The beautiful location at the Embarcadero Marina Park South, San Diego's great weather, the star performers and the Symphony's fabulous musicians always makes a Pops concert a special treat. But if you sense an extra something about this year's performances, you might not be wrong. The San Diego Symphony’s Summer Pops season is the beginning of the Symphony's centennial celebration. The 100th anniversary of California's oldest orchestra will be noted at every concert from now to December. I’d like to welcome my guests. Marvin Hamlisch is an Academy, Grammy, Emmy, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning composer and a principle Pops conductor for the San Diego Symphony. He’ll be conducting this weekend’s “Star Spangled Pops” concerts. Marvin, welcome back to These Days.

MARVIN HAMLISCH (Composer): Well, thank you very much. A pleasure.


CAVANAUGH: Randall Craig Fleischer is music director for three symphony orchestras from New York to Alaska. He’s a composer and leader in the symphonic rock music fusion, and he’s conducting the "Bravo Broadway Rocks" concerts this Pops season. And, Randall, welcome to These Days.

RANDALL CRAIG FLEISCHER (Composer): Good morning. Marvin, it’s an honor to be on the program with you.

HAMLISCH: Hey, a pleasure. A pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Marvin, you’ve conducted Pops concerts…



CAVANAUGH: …for a number of orchestras. You’ve conducted for San Diego Symphony for a long time now. Why do you enjoy it?

HAMLISCH: Well, you know, I have to tell you something, I think that anytime you get a chance to conduct outdoors, it’s a great thing because the audience loves it. They’re sitting there, they’re eating, they’re enjoying it. The weather should be very good. We shouldn’t have any problems with weather. And the music just kind of wafts over you, you know what I mean?


HAMLISCH: And it’s a lovely environment. And, of course, with July 4th, we also have the fireworks, the whole thing going.


HAMLISCH: So it’s a – just a lovely environment to do it. And I’m very proud of this show this week because we have two choirs. We have a children’s choir and an adult choir. We have a bluegrass band. I mean, we have a lot of stuff going on there, so I think it’s going to be fun.

CAVANAUGH: Now you conduct for the Winter Pops as well.

HAMLISCH: Right, yes.

CAVANAUGH: So is the energy different from the audience in the summertime?

HAMLISCH: That’s interesting. I don’t know if the energy’s different. I tell you one thing that I love, you know, there’s a lot of boats out there.


HAMLISCH: You know, they have them parked out there. And everytime you finish a piece, people applaud and then you hear mmmwwwaaaa…

CAVANAUGH: …mmmaaa…

HAMLISCH: …mmmwwwaaaa… And that makes everything different. You know, it makes a whole new type of concert, you know.

CAVANAUGH: Randall, you bring a symphonic rock concert to the Pops. Tell us about the kind of energy that that brings out in the audience.

FLEISCHER: Well, the idea is to sort of reach outside of the standard Pops into a rock ‘n roll audience and show a different crowd a really good time. And, you know, Marvin is dead on in terms of the esthetic of an outdoor concert. There’s a sort of less formal, celebratory nature to it that is – it’s just a sort of unique fun.

CAVANAUGH: You know, one thing that always surprised me when I was broadcasting from the Pops concerts and doing some interviews beforehand is really how little time you get to rehearse…


CAVANAUGH: …for these Pops concerts. Starting with you, Marvin, tell us about that.

HAMLISCH: Well, you know, there’s only a finite amount of time that you have. Usually a concert gets two rehearsals. Now when you say two rehearsals, that’s supposed to be two and a half hours but it’s really two hours and ten minutes because 20 minutes is a break, you know. And – But, you know, when you’re working with a really top notch orchestra, as we have here, it’s enough time. You get it done. By the way, the show that you’re going to be doing, the Pops show that’s the rock ‘n roll thing…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, “Broadway Rocks"…

HAMLISCH: …the “Broadway Rocks,” is a wonderful show because when you think about all of the shows that have become hits and that have rock ‘n roll, whether it’s, you know, starting with “Rent,” particularly, you know, going out to “Jersey Boys” and all, there’s a lot of really fabulous music in there. And a lot of people always say, well, they don’t write them the way they used to. That may be true but that’s not saying that they’re not writing them pretty darn good.


HAMLISCH: You know, I just saw a show in New York that I was nuts about which has a very rock ‘n roll, I mean, almost punk rock score, called “American Idiot.”

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, we’re going to talk about that later.


CAVANAUGH: I’m going to talk to Randall about that because…

HAMLISCH: Yeah, so, I mean, so there’s – So things are moving – The good thing about Broadway is there’s room for everything.

CAVANAUGH: Right, exactly.

HAMLISCH: Yeah. Yeah, really.


FLEISCHER: Exactly. You know, I just want to echo what Marvin said. It’s wonderful to see new Broadway shows sort of written in the vernacular. I mean, there are certain composers who write in a Broadway style but then bringing, you know, like, you know, Green Day with a show on Broadway. I mean, I just think that’s a fantastic way to – you know, so that Broadway is something that remains current and relevant.

CAVANAUGH: You’re going to have a song from the Green Day musical in the “Bravo Broadway Rocks.”

FLEISCHER: Yeah, I did an arrangement of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” which is a wonderful, wonderful song. And I’ve been a Green Day fan for years. I love that band. So I was really excited to do something from that show.

CAVANAUGH: Randall, what does a symphony orchestra add to that, to that kind of a…

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, it’s a palette of sound. It’s a palette of additional expressive capabilities. And I, you know, Marvin is certainly a great example of this because he’s floated between genres in his extraordinary career. I also, as an American musician, you know, am interested in Bach and Brahms and Beethoven but also the musical vernacular of our day, that being rock and hip-hop and country and things like that. So it’s just a fusion of sound palettes, if you will, of expressive capabilities. And pop music has been using orchestral musicians and orchestral instruments for years.


FLEISCHER: String sections in the ballads, oboe solos in the ballads, brass and wind players in the sort of classic Motown horn section. So that fusion to some extent just feels effortless.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Marvin, the lineup for the music at the “Star Spangled Pops” concert…


CAVANAUGH: …this weekend is really kind of a mix in itself.

HAMLISCH: Oh, yeah, I mean, because, you know, as I said, we have a bluegrass group, we have the two choirs, we have two lovely people, one of them who used to be a contestant and one of the finalists on “American Idol.” And a girl who I’m not sure exactly – I know she was Miss California for a while. She’s a lovely, lovely person. Yeah, but there’s a lot of different music. Of course, we’re going to do the things that we have to do in terms of, you know, the George M. Cohans, the Irving Berlins. There’s one section in there, by the way, that is very moving and toward the end of the show we do a thing called “Servicemen On Parade,” and the idea is that you hear all the different melodies that represent, you know, the Marines, the Army, the Air Force, whatever, and we ask the people who were in those particular, you know, services to stand, you know, and by the time that’s over, you really have a real great appreciation of America and particularly the generations before us and what they had to do and to give. And for me, doing this kind of a show in San Diego means a lot because, you know, you look across the water and you see those ships and you know that some of those ships are going to very difficult areas and it certainly brings the point home, you know.

CAVANAUGH: And you’re doing “Freedom Is” again this year…


CAVANAUGH: …with members of the San Diego Master Chorale. Tell us about this piece of music and…


CAVANAUGH: …why you include it.

HAMLISCH: Well, I wrote it.


HAMLISCH: That might be the real reason right there.

CAVANAUGH: Fundamental.

HAMLISCH: That’s pretty much it. You know, you gotta pay for something, you know. But it was written with the Bergmans, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the same people that we wrote “The Way We Were” with. And, I don’t know, there was a period in my life about, I don’t know, 8, 9 years ago where Alan & Marilyn and I got together and started writing much more, I would say, patriotic type songs. We wrote a couple of them. And one was “Freedom Is.” And when we did it last year it was a really lovely arrangement that the chorale master had done, and so he decided to program it again this year and I was very happy about it. You know, there’s something always great when you have a children’s choir also because you’re seeing the future of America, you’re seeing, you know, these kids and I think when it comes to Pops concerts, my only big thing about it is that whether it’s a rock show or whether it’s a, you know, conventional show, whatever, it is a great time to bring the family. It is a great time for the parents not to keep saying, well, I have nothing in common with my children, I can’t bring them to anything. You can bring them to this, you know, and they are going to sit there and they’re going to actually like it. So, yes, there is – This is definitely family night.

CAVANAUGH: And I’d like you to talk a little bit about the showmanship, Marvin, that you bring to these shows because I’ve been to several of them and just sitting at the piano, just talking with the audience, it’s kind of like an evening with Marvin Hamlisch.

HAMLISCH: Well, we try – we – I think it’s important to talk to the audience.


HAMLISCH: Because, I mean, otherwise they could just go out, buy a couple of albums or CDs, hear the same music, who cares? You know, it’s important to say that a conductor’s also a human being and we have thoughts and we have ideas and we like to say hello to people. Usually if there’s a child in the first couple of rows, they know I’m going to talk to them. You know, they just know it. But, yeah, but it’s fun. I think the difference between a Pops show and a regular concert is exactly the fact that it’s one is a show and one’s a concert. One is strictly the music and one is music-plus, and that’s what I like about the Pops.

CAVANAUGH: Randall, I know that not only, in addition to doing this very, very, very current Green Day selection, from the Green Day musical “American Idiot,” on the “Bravo Broadway Rocks” concert that you’re going to be conducting…


CAVANAUGH: …there’s another piece that will be very familiar to San Diego audiences and that’s a “Jersey Boys” medley. Did you choose that one for the hometown crowd?

FLEISCHER: That’s a happy coincidence, I’ll answer honestly. We’ve actually done that melody (sic) all over the – medley, excuse me, all over the world and it, you know, it’s just sort of timeless fun Pops songs. And, you know, the fact that that show had its birth in San Diego is – it’s just a nice plus.

CAVANAUGH: Do you find that – are you inspired by the music that you’re hearing on Broadway now?

FLEISCHER: I absolutely am. I mean, you know, you take a brilliant, you know, classic Broadway composer like Marvin, you know, you know, “Chorus Line” is one of the greatest musical theatre pieces ever written and, you know, there are rock elements there. It was such a brilliant fusion piece. I’m very, very happy to see and hear elements of current pop vernacular finding their way onto the Broadway stage.

CAVANAUGH: And into the concert hall, apparently.

FLEISCHER: And into the concert hall, precisely.

CAVANAUGH: I am speaking with Randall Craig Fleischer. He is a composer and he’s going to be conducting the “Bravo Broadway Rocks” concert this Pops season. And also Marvin Hamlisch…


CAVANAUGH: …who is going to be conducting this weekend’s “Star Spangled Pops” concerts. Now I mentioned in the opening that the symphony, San Diego Symphony, is celebrating its centennial.

HAMLISCH: Right, right.

CAVANAUGH: If I – I’d like to get both of your insights on this. Put that milestone in context of today’s economy, our multi-media world, the dwindling classical music audiences. Marvin, what kind of an accomplishment is that for the San Diego Symphony?

HAMLISCH: Well, I mean, it’s a fantastic accomplishment. And the truth of the matter is, the real accomplishment is that it’s still around.


HAMLISCH: I mean, given where we are in today’s world and what’s going on financially and all, to be able to actually keep an orchestra going is unbelievable. It’s just unbelievable because you keep reading about the orchestras that are tottering and are going to be gone, which is a horrible thing to think about. But, yes, no, it’s an accomplishment, and I think what’s really good about the San Diego crowd is that they’re very loyal to their symphony, they really are. I mean, I know that we’re going to have over 2200 people every night at the “Star Spangled Pops,” and that, to me, is a testimony to this town and their fans, it really is. So, yes, I think it’s glorious to say that you’re the oldest, you know, orchestra in California.

CAVANAUGH: That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?

HAMLISCH: Yeah, really unbelievable, you know…

FLEISCHER: It is, and I completely echo everything that Marvin said. It makes a statement about San Diego. I mean, before, you know, many of the roads were paved there was already a symphony orchestra. This is clearly a town that takes pride in the arts, in culture, great music, great theatre. It makes – just makes a very, very positive statement about the quality of life in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Marvin, I know that you’ve been commissioned by the Symphony to…


CAVANAUGH: …compose some new music in connection with the centennial.

HAMLISCH: Right, right.

CAVANAUGH: Have you started work on that?

HAMLISCH: Funny enough, I just had a meeting about it because we’re going to do it very much like “Lincoln Portrait” in terms of we’re going to have some words spoken about San Diego and that will launch the piece. So, hopefully, if everything works out, I think we’re going to do the piece – originally, I think in October, I think is the first time it gets played. So I’ll start to write it in about probably another 3, 4 weeks. I’m waiting for the text. But we now kind of know that this text is going to arrive, so we’re looking forward to that.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I mean, that’s going to be a wonderful thing for the San Diego Symphony. I want to thank you both so much for coming in and talking about it. And let me just make it clear that Randall, you are going to be conducting the “Bravo Broadway Rocks” concert. When is that going to take place?

FLEISCHER: Let’s see, that is August 6 and 7.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And Marvin Hamlisch is going to be conducting this weekend’s “Star Spangled Pops” concert.


CAVANAUGH: And that runs…

HAMLISCH: This Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

CAVANAUGH: And the San Diego Symphony Bridgepoint Education Summer Pops continues weekends through September 5th. That’s the Embarcadero Marina Park…

HAMLISCH: With the – I just want to tell you…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Yes, please.

HAMLISCH: …there’s some incredible people. I mean, they’ve got LeAnn Rimes, they’ve got Burt Bacharach…


HAMLISCH: …coming. They’ve got Michael Feinstein, who’s fabulous. The music of Queen. You know, they’ve got a lot of stuff going on. They’ve got Sha Na Na, by the way, coming here.


HAMLISCH: Which is a 40th anniversary celebration. They’ve got a lot of really good acts, so I think people will have a good time.

CAVANAUGH: And you can also see that at a full listing of all the people who are going to be…


CAVANAUGH: …performing at the San Diego Summer Pops. Thanks again, guys. Thank you so much.

HAMLISCH: Thank you.

FLEISCHER: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: And, Marvin, I just want to add that we do have a very exclusive composition that you made for us the last time…

HAMLISCH: Oh, yes.

CAVANAUGH: …you were here. And we don’t want to forget to play that on the way out.

HAMLISCH: Okay, fantastic.

CAVANAUGH: Coming up, the 4th of July Weekend Preview as These Days continues here on KPBS.