The Symphony does Top 40
The Houston Symphony's versatile POPS series proves orchestral music can be fun
The rhythmic beats of Tiempo Libre go well with a frozen mojito. The romantic tunes of Cole Porter couple perfectly with a crisp merlot, mellow cheeses and seasonal fruits. And the Americana spirit of John Denver’s “Take Me Home: Country Roads” begs for a local brew, some down home barbecue and warm, hearty apple pie with friends and family. A party isn’t complete without music. The right mix will lift guests’ spirits, and the wrong tunes will kill buzzes instantly.
Orchestral musicians’ training is serious business, but orchestra music doesn’t have to be serious all the time. Sometimes, the players let loose and use their highly tuned ears and virtuosic fingers to perform music that will put a skip in your step, a twinkle in your eye and a shake to your thang. The Houston Symphony is no exception.
The Houston Symphony’s POPS series transforms the ambience of the concert hall into a new experience for popular-music lovers. POPS is a series where you hear the unexpected, and it's all about one thing: fun.
“You can have fun, laugh and hear lots of music that you recognize,” Michael Krajewski, principal pops conductor, says. “The music we play in the Houston Symphony POPS series is part of your everyday life. Classical music and fun don’t have to be exclusive. And all of that can happen at the Symphony.”
The versatile Houston Symphony can rock out to Beethoven at one concert and interpret the nostalgic music of Paul McCartney at another. The tender melodies of Mozart Symphonies transform into the raucous and wild Latin beats of Tiempo Libre. And the virtuosity of Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova one night can give way to the soaring, epic vocals of Broadway queen Idina Menzel on the next as she belts out tunes from Wicked, Rent and her album, I Stand.
“We perform music from the Top 40s, from the charts, movies, and Broadway — works typically not programmed in the classical series find themselves at home here, " Krajewski says. "We find symphonic arrangements — interpretations not written originally for a symphony orchestra — like music by The Beatles, Elton John, John Denver, jazz, celtic music and rock 'n' roll, and we get a good kick out of surprising audiences with unexpected music."
Krajewski says he loves to take music by some of the most successful songwriters and popular performers of our day to the orchestra.
“I helped put together the Paul McCartney tribute, an all-new show that chronicles Paul’s musical life from his iconic Beatle’s years, his hits with Wings and his solo career,” he says. The program features McCartney’s songs from different eras, from “Hey Jude” and “Band on the Run” to “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Live and Let Die.”
Don’t be surprised if you find Krajewski talking to you from the podium. POPS concerts tend to be a little more informal, fast-paced and always contain an element of surprise.
“I discovered I had a knack for talking to the audience. I loved learning what concert-goers were interested in listening to, and I enjoyed crafting creative and interesting programs that catered to their tastes. I have a very eclectic taste and love hearing orchestras play diverse music, including popular,” Krajewski says.
Some POPS concerts may even include more than music — dancing, lights, costumes and sets are not uncommon. Bowfire’s masterful fiddling just isn’t the same without tap dancing and the electric step, for example.
Even opera gets a little popular facelift, courtesy of Poperazzi. With this trio — straight from the stages of Vegas — combining The Godfather, Jersey Boys and Nessum Dorma, the Symphony makes you an offer you can’t refuse.
What popular songs and tunes would you love to hear at the Houston Symphony? Tell us in comments.