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Ben Folds kicks off Pittsburgh Symphony's summer season

| Thursday, June 12, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Ben Folds
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Ben Folds

A summer of exceptional musical variety is coming to Heinz Hall, where the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will present concerts celebrating bands such as Queen and the Bee Gees, popular composers such as Marvin Hamlisch and John Williams and classics such as the Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.

The symphony offered a similarly diverse lineup of music last summer and found it was popular. A tribute to Jerry Garcia sold out, as did “The Music of Led Zeppelin,” which was performed by the same group that will present “Music of Queen” on June 24.

“It's nice to be able to showcase the orchestra in ways that surprise people,” says Michael Sexauer, the symphony's vice president of sales. “It does help the accessibility of the orchestra, but it also shows how multitalented we are and how an orchestra can be right at home playing music you might not expect. John Williams is obvious, but I think people will be very pleasantly surprised by the ‘Music of Queen' and how full and rich a rock band can sound when working with a full orchestra.”

This summer, the orchestra is adding a straight classical concert to the summer mix, as well as “Triple Play!” a program modeled after the old Arthur Fiedler/Boston Pops shows.

“The Ben Folds' Orchestral Experience” kicks off the summer programming on June 17 as the singer and piano player returns for this third appearance with the orchestra at Heinz Hall. He came to prominence as leader of the Ben Folds Five, with which he reunited in 2013, then forged a successful solo career, including television and symphony concerts.

Folds will perform his irony-laced songs and introduce a new classical piano concerto he has written. Fawzi Haimor will conduct.

Other Pittsurgh Symphony summer concerts are at Heinz Hall, Downtown, except as noted.

• “The Music of Queen,” 7:30 p.m. June 24. Conductor and arranger Brent Havens' program extends the Queen listening experience with the Pittsburgh Symphony and a full rock band and vocals.

• “Play It Again, Marvin,” 8 p.m. June 28. The world premiere of “a star-studded event” is written and produced by pianist Kevin Cole, who often performed with Hamlisch and the Pops at Heinz Hall and elsewhere. Family videos and personal memories will give an insider's view of his life.

• South Park show, 8:05 p.m. July 5, free. The rousing program of American music will include audience favorites, such as “American Salute,” “Candide Overture” and the 1812 Overture, led by Haimor; it is part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series.

• Hartwood Acres show, Hampton, 815 p.m. July 6, free. Similar to July 5, the program includes Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1 played by assistant principal cellist Adam Liu; it is also part of the Allegheny County Summer Concert Series.

• “Gladiator” with live orchestra, 7:30 p.m. July 12. Hans Zimmer's score will be performed by the orchestra with vocalist Clara Sanabras and choir while the film is projected on a large screen above the musicians.

• “Stayin' Alive,” July 17, 7:30 p.m. This tribute to the Bee Gees by the symphony will include favorites such as “You Should Be Dancing,” “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Stayin' Alive.”

• “Music of John Williams,” 2:30 p.m. July 19. The show features spectacular music from “Star Wars,” “E.T.” and “Harry Potter,” led by Williams' fan and symphony resident conductor Lawrence Loh.

• Boyz II Men, 7:30 p.m. July 23. The iconic R&B group will perform some of its greatest hits with the symphony. The concert also features “tweet seats” for people who want to share their experiences in real time.

• “A Symphonic Celebration,” 7 p.m. July 25. A program of Romantic-era concert favorites will culminate in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, played by Olga Kern.

• “Triple Play,” 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2. A buffet of popular orchestral music by Williams, Maurice Ravel and others will be performed in three 30-minute sets, led by guest conductor Christian Capocaccia. Xiayin Wang will be piano soloist.

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

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