By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Less than two weeks after the sudden death of composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra announced today that five-time Grammy-nominated singer and pianist Michael Feinstein would succeed Hamlisch as the Pops principal conductor in the 2013 season.
Today’s announcement was made by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogard at a media conference in the rotunda of the Pasadena City Hall with Feinstein; Paul Jan Zdunek, CEO of the Pasadena Symphony Association; and Melinda Shea, PSA president, also in attendance.
Feinstein will be the first person to hold the newly created Marvin Hamlisch Chair. He will lead three concerts next summer at the orchestra’s new home, the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia, with dates and programming to be announced later (other concerts will be led by guest conductors, as was the case in each of Hamlisch’s two seasons).
The orchestra’s third concert this season will be tomorrow night. It will be led, as was originally planned, by guest conductor Michael Krajewski (LINK). The season’s final concert, on Sept. 8, will be conducted by Larry Blank, a long-time Hamlisch collaborator, and features the music of George Gershwin. (LINK)
Selecting Feinstein, who turns 56 next month, represents something of a gamble for the Pops because he has never conducted a symphony orchestra, although he has led a backup band in many of his shows. “I’ve played with orchestras for 25 years,” Feinstein said today at the media announcement, “and I’m glad that I paid close attention. I’ve got a lot of learning to do.” The initial commitment is for one year.
He said that, for the moment, the Pops would be his only orchestra, although he is artistic director of the Palladium Center for the Performing Arts, a $170 million, three-theatre venue in Carmel, Indiana, which opened in January 2011, as well as director of the Jazz and Popular Song Series at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Feinstein will continue the musical tradition of all-pops concerts that Hamlisch established when he took over the reins last summer at the Rose Bowl. “I consider this the thrill of a lifetime,” said Feinstein, “and it’s a great deal of responsibility to continue Marvin’s great legacy. I feel like Marvin will be mentoring me in this new position.”
Hamlisch died suddenly Aug. 6 at the age of 68. He was in the second year at the helm of the Pops; he and Feinstein had appeared on July 21 before what was reported to be the largest crowd in Pops history. “It’s still hard for all of us to realize fully what has happened,” said Zdunek. “Things well moving ahead so well, with the Pasadena Symphony fully into its new home at Ambassador Auditorium and our new summer home at the Arboretum being such a spectacular success. And then we all woke up to the terrible news earlier this month.”
During the past two decades, Feinstein has gained widespread fame for his work archiving, advocating and performing what he calls the Great American Songbook. After graduating from high school, Feinstein moved to Los Angeles when he was 20. The widow of legendary concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant introduced him to Ira Gershwin in July 1977. Feinstein became Gershwin’s assistant for six years, which earned him access to numerous unpublished Gershwin songs, many of which he has since performed and recorded.
His experience at the July 21 concert was integral to Feinstein’s accepting the new position. “In a time when arts in general are being devalued,” said Feinstein, “the commitment that the city of Pasadena and the Pasadena Pops Orchestra has made is very special.”
Feinstein also noted the vibe that he felt at the Arboretum on July 21. “I always want to feel a connection with the audience,” explained Feinstein, “and that night was something special. It was one of the most gratifying times I’ve had.” Next season, he will be in charge of continuing the success.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.