Under Krajewski, plan on familiar Pops music

Michael Krajewski is of the few conductors
Michael Krajewski is of the few conductors (specializing in pops. His first program next season: "Viva Philadelphia!")
Posted: March 13, 2013

Peter Nero has given listeners a lot of improvisation in the last three-plus decades. An instinctive showman and unlikely keyboard embodiment of jazz and classical traditions, Nero has constructed concerts with the Philly Pops without committing to a printed program of pieces. The mix could change from night to night - though you could always count on him to send you home with Sousa's "Liberty Bell March" in your ear and his own zany hand gestures dancing in your head.

What can Philly Pops fans expect from Michael Krajewski?

The seasoned pops conductor was hired sight unseen - or at least sounds unheard - never having conducted the ensemble. His first rehearsals are this week, and his initial concerts this weekend, a Lennon/McCartney tribute. Nero leads one more program this season, and then Krajewski takes the baton officially with the 2013-14 season.

"In some ways, fundamentally, I'll be maintaining what I think are some of the basic things that the audience has enjoyed and expects from the Pops," said Krajewski, 62, in an interview last week, "that is, to hear music that they are familiar with, that they feel is a part of their lives."

Like Nero, he will kibitz with the audience. But any shared characteristics might end there.

He does not play piano, he does not orchestrate or arrange his own or anyone else's material. He won't do "The Liberty Bell March." And the audience will get a reliable printed program telling them what to expect.

"I am a very organized person. I plan things way in advance," said the Orlando-based conductor.

Born in Detroit and raised in Dearborn, Mich., Krajewski majored in music education at Wayne State University and taught for a short time, but entered the graduate conducting program at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He went the route of many budding conductors, gaining experience with smaller orchestras - but classical, not pops. He became an assistant conductor with the Detroit Symphony for four seasons ending in 1986, and landed a job as music director of the Modesto Symphony Orchestra (1989-2000).

As a young conductor, he was often assigned the family, education and pops concerts, and he discovered that many components of that job appealed to him.

"I looked at myself through the skills I had, and it seemed to fit those kinds of programs and concerts really well. I like doing a variety of music, I like talking to an audience, I like the format of short pieces and engaging with the audience. So I made the switch [to pops] 12 or 15 years ago, and I haven't looked back. I think - I know - I did the right thing."

Krajewski, in fact, is one of the few plying the trade today. Just a handful of conductors specialize in pops, a dynamic that has kept him busy. He will continue his posts as principal pops conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, and the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.

Since Krajewski is just starting out in Philadelphia, his direction isn't set. Mostly, he will lead concept programs here that he has developed elsewhere, he said. Next season's plans highlight the philosophy: a touring duo doing Simon and Garfunkel material, a Marvin Hamlisch show, a John Williams program, a visit from the Motown Men (née Broadway's Jersey Boys).

Christmas won't be quite the same, either. Talks failed between Nero and the Pops that would have brought him back for those concerts, but conductor David Charles Abell is now scheduled to lead the series in December.

Krajewski's opening program in 2013-14 will be genuine Philadelphia. "Viva Philadelphia!" features hometown band singer Eddie Bruce in tributes to Mario Lanza, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Andrea Bocelli.

What may come of the introduction of a new artistic personality after nearly 35 years isn't clear. But Krajewski says that audiences basically are the same everywhere he goes.

"It's gotten away from Arthur Fiedler starting out with light classics and going into pops music," Krajewski said. "They need something more specific - a theme, the music of Lennon and McCartney, music from James Bond films. I really envied the days of the Boston Pops when you said, 'It's a pops concert,' and people said, 'We'll go.' These days, you have to say something more."

Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-1955 or pdobrin@phillynews.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.

Information: 215-893-1955, www.phillypops.org.

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