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Steven Reineke's Top Five Pops Numbers

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If deserted city streets and ubiquitous Mister Softee trucks aren’t enough to remind you, maybe Sousa marches and Broadway tunes will drive the point home: the Fourth of July is around the corner, and that means it’s high pops season.

Steven Reineke has been the Music Director of the New York Pops since 2009. Along with leading that orchestra’s annual series at Carnegie Hall, he is also Principal Pops Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and has a busy guest conducting schedule.

This weekend, Maestro Reineke shares his top five pops pieces, which touch on some personal memories and pay homage to his mentor, Erich Kunzel, the late, venerable conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

1.  How did Cole Porter’s “I've Got You Under My Skin" get the 24-year-old Reineke under the wing of his mentor? While banging on the doors of Hollywood studios as a film composer, a project brought him to Cincinnati, where his talent for arranging caught the ear of Kunzel. When the older conductor asked him point blank, “So kid, you any good?”, Reineke replied, “We’ll, I’d like to think so,” and the rest is history.

2.  Reineke dreamt a little too far when he was orchestrating Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Any Dream Will Do” and the British composer protested that it strayed too far from the original vision.  Perhaps it shouldn’t have been titled “Any Dream Will Do.”

3.  Who knew L.A. Dodger's manger Tommy Lasorda could improvise on stage? When he was serving as narrator for Reineke’s setting of the famous poem, Casey at Bat, he forgot the lines and began waxing poetic on the amount of traffic around the Hollywood Bowl. Unfortunately, this was not quite related to the original poem. Or even baseball. Still, he got a little help from his friends – the conductor and orchestra made a game-saving dive to rescue the piece. Reineke suggests we listen to James Earl Jones’ version, instead. 

4.  It’s good to be the king. When you write or arrange music, you can give yourself a nice solo part, especially if your teacher insists. That’s how Reineke was pushed to play the Forrest Gump "Feather Theme” on piano – not his main instrument. Reineke bravely accepted the challenge and recounts the pressure of performing before his colleagues and “all those Telarc microphones.”

5.  Saving the best for last, Reineke recounts a touching moment that made his favorite song Richard Hayman’s arrangement of Sing (Sing a Song)/I Believe in Music. This tune was programmed on Kunzel’s last concert, but he grew too weak to conduct. Reineke had to begin the concert without his mentor.  At intermission, he found Kunzel waiting in the dressing room. The elder man said, “I want to do this” and went on to conduct the second half. Although starting slowly, the music filled the Kunzel with new strength, and by the end, he was clapping and singing along with the soloist, tears of joy streaming down his cheeks.