Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Space fever: Close encounters with the BSO

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Courtesy of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Stormtroopers take over the stage as Jack Everly conducts the orchestra in performing favorites from movies and TV shows.
What’s up with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra? The world-class ensemble of classical musicians hired a company called Kosmic to jettison laser beams across the Music Center at Strathmore’s finely buffed walls. And Conductor Jack Everly plans to swing a Star Wars light saber, acting as a galactic ‘‘policeman directing traffic,” jokes BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney.

Audience members are welcome to dress up for next Thursday’s evening event. Note to Music Center regulars: This doesn’t mean a quick trip to Lord & Taylor. Rather, concertgoers can transform themselves into Klingons, Jetsons, Harry Potter or even an out-of-the-closet Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

Regardless of all the sticks and tricks, the undeniable showstopper will be the appearance of George Takei, who was Lt. Cmdr. Sulu in ‘‘Star Trek,” making a supersonic entrance in his best ‘‘Beam me up, Scotty” tradition. Takei will narrate various pieces, including one of sci-fi’s most memorable speeches from the 1950 movie ‘‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,” when the space alien Klaatu pleads for world peace.

Everly created this salute to sci-fi, titled ‘‘BSO SuperPops Boldly Goes Where No Orchestra Has Gone,” which will feature some of the most memorable and beloved music from movies and television shows of the last 60 years. Familiar pieces, including the ‘‘Star Wars” theme and seven other works by John Williams as well as Richard Strauss’ ‘‘2001: Space Odyssey,” will be mixed with forgotten favorites in the two-hour performance. ‘‘After that, the audience shuts down,” he points out.

Also on the program is Everly’s arrangement of ‘‘Lost in Syndication,” consisting of theme songs from TV shows including ‘‘The Jetsons,” ‘‘Lost in Space” and ‘‘The Twilight Zone.”

Last season, the orchestra had a ‘‘blast, with his (Everly’s) 1960s program. They (the orchestra) got to dress in tie-dye,” recalls BSO spokesperson Michelle Pendoley.

With pops concerts (short for popular) consistently bringing in people with varied musical interests, ‘‘you need a hook,” Everly observes.

For the orchestra members ‘‘it brings in the greatest diversity of audiences,” Carney offers.

Pendoley notes that ‘‘pops subscription sales at Strathmore for the 2007-’08 season were up approximately 30 percent over last season.”

Although both men are vehement that we will never, ever hear a rap music pops concert. ‘‘It’s not lyrical,” Everly sniffs.

That’s OK since the BSO is planning a season that will include Art Garfunkel, Pops Goes Vegas, The Four Freshmen and a Broadway show tunes program.

Neither Carney nor the other orchestra members will see the music until just prior to the concert, but the concertmaster isn’t worried.

For pops concerts, members ‘‘sight read,” he explains. ‘‘We’ve been trained to read them quickly. They aren’t so challenging.” Still, he notes that they ‘‘are getting trickier.”

Takei believes sci-fi orchestrations ‘‘require a spirit that soars.”

Last fall in Seattle, the actor and Everly worked together on sold-out sci-fi concerts. Takei quickly learned that this pops concert brings out a ‘‘whole electricity, passion and joy. After each number, there is such exuberance. It’s great fun, and everyone is so enthusiastic.”

For all the killjoys who think pops is for simpletons, Takei explains in his wonderfully modulated voice that ‘‘it’s like going to an art gallery and cultivating varied taste.”

And when it comes to a sci-fi pops concert, Everly has found that the audience doesn’t sit silently until the conductor takes his final bow.

As Principal Pops Conductor of the Baltimore, Indianapolis and Ottawa, he has developed thematic pops concerts from Celtic to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s works. Even before Everly took on his new post, he spent some 14 years conducting for the American Ballet Theater and traveling the world with Mikael Baryshnikov.

Lt. Sulu takes a bow

Takei is another matter. In his 50-plus year career, the actor has been canonized by Trekkies. But he is also becoming a star for another audience. For years, radio’s ‘‘Howard Stern Show” jokesters broadcasted a phony phone call to Takei. Sure, it was a bit cruel, but once the show moved to Sirius radio, Takei surprised the audience by coming on board as announcer four times a year. Last year, he earned an ongoing role in the TV show ‘‘Heroes.” And he’s political, too, making an unsuccessful run for mayor of Los Angeles in 1974 and working on behalf of the gay community. In 2005, Takei made headlines when he announced he was gay. He became a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, championing legalized gay marriage and other issues of equality.

This native Californian, now in his 70s, has been lucky to continue his role in the short-lived original ‘‘Star Trek” TV show, which aired from 1966 to 1969, into an ongoing moneymaker. Starring in some of the 10 ‘‘Star Trek” movies, he is wise enough to embrace this phenomenon for all it is worth and even charm passengers on ‘‘Star Trek”-themed cruises.

While he takes his job and his life seriously, Takei has a sense of humor — whether he is playing Kaito Nakamura in ‘‘Heroes” or being mercilessly teased about his love life with long-time companion Brad Altman by the Stern gang.

Takei believes he is making a political statement on the Stern show.

‘‘Howard Stern – aside from the raunchiness – is a pillar of freedom of speech. My experience in a childhood internment camp made me profoundly appreciate free speech.”

Of course, he admits some of the antics may be too raunchy for his taste, but laughs it off with his now famous ‘‘Oh my!”

Lt. Sulu, may the force be with you forever.

‘‘BSO SuperPops Boldly Goes Where No Orchestra Has Gone” will be presented at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, in The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. The cast also includes Broadway tenor Mike Eldred and soprano Kristen Plumley backed by the Sci-fi-ettes choral ensemble. Tickets range from $15 to $84. Call 877-BSO-1444 or visit BSOmusic.org.