- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2008

A pairing of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and science-fiction film might seem a little out of this world. It turns out, though, that one of the country’s top pops conductors might not have pursued a career as a musician if not for the unearthly genre.

BSO Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly says he’s been “terrified and fascinated” by the sci-fi genre since he saw the 1951 film “The Day the Earth Stood Still” as a child.

“Aside from that marvelous story and screenplay and the fact it was so brilliantly directed by Robert Wise, what really stuck in my memory was the music by Bernard Herrmann. It’s incredibly evocative. It’s a subliminal effect it has on you,” the maestro says. “His style of composition is definitely unique. He gets under the surface of what it is he’s writing the music for.”

Mr. Everly says it’s one of the things that inspired him to become a conductor.

He’ll bring Mr. Herrmann’s score to life next week with the BSO SuperPops’ Sci-Fi Spectacular, along with some other favorites of the small and big screens. Mr. Herrmann may have inspired the young Mr. Everly, but it’s living composer John Williams who dominates the program, which includes pieces from his scores for “Star Wars,” “Superman,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Mr. Williams, who served for a time as the Boston Pops’ principal conductor, is the master of sci-fi soundtracks, but Mr. Everly says his influence goes far beyond that. The BSO conductor declares that the second golden age of Hollywood film music began in the 1970s, and he attributes much of it to Mr. Williams, who, he says, “brought back to Hollywood and the world at large a symphonic sensibility after the 1960s came at us.”

It just so happened that like-minded directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were making sci-fi films — like “Star Wars,” which Mr. Everly calls a “sci-fi opera” — in the 1970s and 1980s. Mr. Everly sees this as a happy coincidence. “You could do anything you wanted, since we don’t know what symphonic music in space sounds like,” he says, adding with a laugh: “We do now, thanks to John.”

Mr. Everly has also done some musical work himself for the evening. He’s arranged a medley of theme songs from sci-fi television series called “Lost in Syndication.” It includes music from “The Twilight Zone,” “The X-Files,” “The Jetsons,” and “Lost in Space.”

“It’s something I find very fulfilling, especially when it all seems to click,” he says. “Putting together a medley isn’t just a matter of patching together a few pieces. Any medley you create needs to have its own arc.” An arranger must also pay attention to changing keys and what pieces sound good next to each other. What made it a bit easier is that many of these themes were written for the small television orchestras each network used to have.

Some of these series haven’t been on the air in decades. However, more and more old TV shows are being released on DVD, so Mr. Everly is confident audiences will be able to identify each piece. “We have built a legacy now of entertainment which obviously stays in the consciousness, because it’s good. Anything that’s mediocre frankly just doesn’t stick around,” he says.

Along with the 20th-century film and television scores, you’ll hear one piece of 19th-century classical music at the BSO event — Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” best known to audiences as the recurring theme in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Is Mr. Everly trying to be sneaky here? Some in the business see programming an evening of audience favorites as a way to get those audiences to consider the symphony’s more serious offerings. But Mr. Everly, who is also principal pops conductor of the Indianapolis and National Arts Centre (Ottawa) symphony orchestras and the music advisor for the Symphonic Pops Consortium, isn’t one of those.

“The once-upon-a-time perception that used to be in the symphonic world, that you’d get them in the door with pops and then they’d come across to classical, proved to be erroneous. I don’t know why anyone thought that would be the case,” he says.

The Sci-Fi Spectacular promises to live up to its name. Rumor has it that Mr. Everly will be conducting not with a baton but with a light sabre. Tenor Mike Eldred, recently seen on Broadway in “Les Miserables,” and soprano Kristen Plumley, who will be a soloist in Mozart’s “Requiem” at Carnegie Hall next month, just might be wearing Star Trek apparel, as might the choral ensemble joining them (audiences are encouraged to “dress the part,” too). There will also be a laser light show and some transporting special events.

The narrator for the evening is George Takei, now on the small screen in “Heroes” but best-loved for his work as Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek.” He’ll also act out famous speeches from some of the films.

The Sci-Fi Spectacular takes place Thursday at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda and next Friday through Sunday at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore. Both shows are at 8 p.m.

The Sci-Fi Spectacular isn’t the only movie-themed programming from the BSO this season. Music Director Marin Alsop will lead an updated orchestration of the score to “City Lights,” accompanied by the 1931 film. Charlie Chaplin not only directed, wrote and starred in the silent film, but he also composed the score. The event takes place at the Music Center at Strathmore on Feb. 29 at 8 p.m. and at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on March 1at 8 p.m. and March 2 at 3 p.m.

Chances are a few songs on the program of “Pops Goes Vegas!” will have appeared in the movies. This celebration of the Strip, with the appropriate cast of singers and dancers, takes place March 13 to 15 at 8 p.m. and March 16 at 3 p.m.

Tickets and more information are at BSOmusic.org.

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