A lot of thought behind Pittsburgh Pops Valentine's Day mix

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Picking a good Valentine's Day Pops program takes as much thought as picking the right gift for the one you love.

Experience has formed conductor Michael Krajewski's programming sensibilities. He is principal pops conductor of the Houston, Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla., symphonies. In November 2012, he was named music director of the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, a post Marvin Hamlisch had accepted before his death in August.

“For me, a Valentine's program is a double-edged sword,” Krajewski says. “Most songs and a whole lot of other music are romantic. The flip side is that I wanted to make sure it wasn't one slow romantic song after another. It would get too gooey-sounding. The trick for me is to get some lively songs in the mix, inject some humor and have a nice variety.”

Krajewski and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops will present “My Funny Valentine” at concerts Thursday through Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

The Pops program was “pretty much” selected by Krajewski. Before he died, Hamlisch had decided on the soloists and chorus, but not selected the actual repertoire.

The vocalists, Doug LaBrecque and Rebecca Luker, both Hamlisch favorites, are well-known to Pittsburgh Pops audiences. The All-Star College Chorus, selected and prepared by Robert Page, was created for Hamlisch.

Luker is a native of Birmingham, Ala., but, as a Broadway star, lives these days in New York City. A lyric soprano, she does perform classical repertoire, in addition to musical theater.

She's just released a new album of Jerome Kern songs titled “I Got Love” on the PS Classics label, supplementing popular favorites with neglected songs she's discovered and loves.

Among the numbers she'll perform at Heinz Hall are the solo “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and, with LaBrecque, the duet “Anything You Can Do” from “Kiss Me Kate.”

Many pops conductors take to the podium as a second career, such as composers Marvin Hamlisch and John Williams, trumpeter Doc Severinsen, and arranger Richard Hayman.

Krajewski, like Arthur Fiedler of Boston Pops fame, originally had his eyes on a career in classical music.

“I started out on the path to being a classical conductor, so I seriously studied technique and all that stuff very carefully,” he says. “I just got detoured a little bit into the pops realm.”

He laughs when asked if he's enjoyed the transition.

“I was music director of the Modesto Symphony (in California) and would do pops concerts, children's concerts — any concerts for nontraditional audiences,” he says. “I found I really enjoy doing that and have a knack for programming for people who don't normally go to a classical concert. I found I enjoyed it even more than what I was doing as a classical conductor and that the set of skills I have were more suited to the pops arena than classical.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com

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