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Pop culture stew could prove satisfying

A little Leonard Bernstein and video game music? Pacific Symphony Pops will have that and Gladys Knight.

April 18, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Gladys Knight, aka the Empress of Soul, performs at the Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall through Saturday.
Gladys Knight, aka the Empress of Soul, performs at the… (Courtesy PACIFIC…)

If David Lynch, Salvador Dali or some other surrealist master were given the task of programming a symphony concert, he or she might concoct something akin to this week's offering at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

First, take an orchestra that recently performed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and have it play a tribute to 20th-century American composers plus a selection from the fantasy video game "Diablo III." Then, to cap off the evening, bring in Gladys Knight, the woman who sang lead on "Midnight Train to Georgia" and other 1970s soul hits.

Perhaps it's not the typical program of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. But Eimear Noone, the guest conductor for the Pacific Symphony Pops shows this week, considers it just as potent a display of music's power.

"It's fun to do something a little out of the ordinary sometimes, and I think there is something in common with these," said Noone, who conducted the Pacific Symphony in the original "Diablo III" recording. "I mean, Gladys' music has real rhythm and real soul, so I went for that in programming the first half. We have some great rhythmic pieces. To me, Leonard Bernstein was the king of rhythm. Then we have some beautiful, soulful pieces, like 'Leah' from 'Diablo III.'

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"It really has the best of what American music has to offer. It all makes sense in a strange sort of way."

Then again, eclecticism is the norm for the Pacific Symphony Pops, whose schedule this season includes hosting original cast members from "Jersey Boys" and playing the original score from "Singin' in the Rain" alongside a screening of the film. Earlier this year, saxophone icon Kenny G took center stage with the orchestra.

Richard Kaufman, the series' regular conductor, said a Pops orchestra barely differs at all from a regular one in terms of instrumentation. The distinction, he said, is one of attitude.

"The only real difference may be that because of the tremendous variety of styles presented on a Pops series, the musicians are called upon to perform in many more varied musical styles than on a regular classical series," Kaufman wrote in an email.

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