Everly should give series more pop

Musician joins BSO as principal pops conductor

April 10, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

"There's nothing worse than someone who has to condescend to conduct a pops concert," says Jack Everly. "I'm very lucky to say that I do enjoy it."

The enthusiasm of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's new principal pops conductor comes through easily as he speaks about his musical world. Sitting in his dressing room at Meyerhoff Hall before the first rehearsal of this week's pops program (his first appearance with the BSO since the February announcement of his appointment), Everly gives every sign of being the right man in the right place at the right time.

The BSO's pops series has been without a principal conductor since Marvin Hamlisch moved on in June 2000, after a three-year stint. Everly brings to the job solid talent and plenty of charm, which explains why he has also recently been named principal pops conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony, too.

"We're really very excited about having him here," says BSO musician Jane Marvine. "He's extraordinarily professional and a really good conductor, which is kind of unusual for pops conductors. He knows how to put together a great show with real Broadway appeal."

An Indiana native with boyish looks (he's 50) and an easygoing manner, Everly seems to have been predestined for the pops route. As a kid, he heard a recording of the Broadway show Kismet, with a score based on classical themes by Borodin. "That was what got me interested in music - and theater," he says. "I would play an LP of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, and right after that, The Most Happy Fella."

After studying at the Indiana University School of Music, Everly headed to New York, where he still lives. In 1977, he landed a job as conductor for a revival of Hello, Dolly, starring the originator of the role, Carol Channing. "Carol gave me my big break," he says. "And she taught me a lot. She taught me how to listen to an audience, not just to the musicians."

His efforts in musicals eventually brought Everly to the attention of American Ballet Theatre, which offered him a three-week trial. "They mentioned conducting Graduation Ball, which is Strauss music I knew well, so I said, `Sure, I'll try that,' " he says. "Then they said I would follow that with Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella. I nearly fell off my chair."

Quickly learning those challenging ballet scores by Prokofiev, Everly earned the respect of company artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov, who hired him as music director, a position that he held for 14 years and that gave him the opportunity to conduct a wide range of repertoire. He also took a sabbatical from the ABT in 1995, when Channing asked him to lead Hello, Dolly again, on tour and on Broadway.

Everly's other Broadway credits include work on Hamlisch's They're Playing Our Song, A Chorus Line and The Goodbye Girl. He has edited and recorded the complete overtures of great Broadway composer Jule Styne. His love of musical theater also brought him to this area - he conducted Baltimore Opera's 1984 production of the show that started it all for him, Kismet.

Leading occasional BSO pops programs over the years made the prospect of becoming principal pops conductor decidedly appealing. "This isn't just a P. R. line - I'm very excited about working [with] these musicians," he says. "The BSO will be one of the stars of every concert we do. I know from experience how enjoyable it is to make music with them. And I can't say that about every orchestra I've done pops with. You must be careful what you put in front of these musicians. I have found if you put music on the stands that is challenging and of a certain obvious quality - and that will also entertain your audience - you hit a home run."

Marvine clearly agrees. "We enjoy playing good quality stuff, whether it's classical or pops," she says. "No, it's not our heart and soul music, what we trained for, but it is really fun when you have someone good on the podium. The programs are fun and entertaining for us, as well as the audience."

Chances are, this week's program, A Celtic Celebration: Music of the Emerald Isle, will be just that. It's one of several, large-scale ventures Everly has fashioned as music adviser for the Symphonic Pops Consortium, an alliance of six orchestras founded to create and produce theatrical pops events. Singers, dancers and pipers are part of this scripted show, which follows the adventures of an Irish immigrant to the United States. "Some of the music we're playing is by Malcolm Arnold, Hamilton Harty and Percy Grainger - all classical composers," he says. "There's a lot of great music here. Someone might ask, `Where are the funny people in green hats?' But I'm not about that. I don't do that kind of show. You have to keep it fresh."

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