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Music's matchmaker: Jack Everly

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Jack Everly is celebrating his 10th anniversary as music director of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's "Yuletide Celebration" and is in his second season as ISO's principal pops conductor, posts he also holds with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and National Symphony Orchestra and National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada, in Ottawa. He also guest conducts with orchestras nationwide. In 1998, Everly initiated the one-of-a-kind Symphonic Pops Consortium, with ISO as the home base to create and produce theatrical pops events that then tour to the alliance's orchestras.

Born and raised in Richmond, Ind., Everly credits his parents for fostering his passion for music. Following graduation from IU, Everly went to New York, where his first experience was as Mary Anthony's dance studio pianist. After two months he moved on to a career that includes 14 years as music director with Baryshnikov's American Ballet Theater, punctuated by conducting gigs on Broadway with Marvin Hamlisch (They're Playing Our Song, Chorus Line, The Goodbye Girl), Show Boat with Donald O'Connor and, most notably, as music director for Carol Channing's 1979 and 1995 revivals of Hello, Dolly! Television credits include PBS. He was music director for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His discography includes numerous Broadway cast recordings.

We began our interview by asking Everly what a pops conductor actually does.

Everly: There's not much difference between classical and pops in what precedes the actual concert. Our mission is simply to bring music to the widest possible audience. We are here to serve a public which has different tastes. Sub-concerns for both are pacing the art to the evening - where are you taking the audience? The focus of any evening compliments the main guest. In the world of pops, pieces are shorter, so you're dealing with more parts to the jigsaw puzzle. Details are overwhelming, classical and pops. It's in performance you see the difference. The pops conductor has to be more accessible. You have to be the person who is leading the audience down a path in a friendly way, taking an audience along on a [musical] journey as a master of ceremonies.

NUVO: What is most challenging about leading three symphonies?

Everly: The most technically demanding will be Baltimore. In January, they're opening a new concert hall closer to Washington, D.C. Each pops program will start there on Thursdays, and move to the old concert hall for Fridays and Saturdays. That means transporting not only performers and players, but lighting, sound, costumes, instruments, music.

Every orchestra does have a different tone, as well as a different kind of audience. I don't alter my personality as such, but when I'm "guesting" and they don't know me as well, it's a little easier to go to the standard master of ceremonies format. Baltimore audiences have been trained to think of pops as "star driven." We are gently trying to change that. Fewer and fewer stars are transferring to symphonic pops. It's a vanishing style of entertainment. Nathan Lane is one of the few left in that tradition.

Right now, in Indianapolis, as staff and orchestra are preparing for the Doc Severinsen concert [Nov. 19-21], we also are rehearsing a "Yuletide" company that will be performing on the West Coast. Within a day of their departure, a new cast for ISO's Dec. 3-23 "Yuletide" will be arriving for rehearsals. Within a week of "Yuletide" closing, ISO will "Ring in the new year with Strauss & Swing." That's a demanding schedule for personnel.

NUVO: Why should someone who has already attended come back for "Yuletide 2004"?

Everly: Eighty-five percent of every "Yuletide" is new. Our goal is to create something traditional and new, entertaining and inspiring and do it all through music. I get a sense that audiences here in Indiana understand the difference between "Yuletide" and something pre-recorded like the touring Radio City show, with no live orchestra, singing or tapping. It's all recorded. "Yuletide" is all live. We offer the public an 80-piece orchestra plus all the performers singing and dancing live, at a cost less than a touring show ticket.

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