On a beautiful sunny afternoon, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Reineke in his exquisite new digs on the Westside, overlooking the City. With an exciting New York Pops 2011/2012 season beginning shortly at Carnegie Hall, there was lots to talk about including some personal things about the man who is going into his 3rd season as musical director-conductor and just turned 41 years old.
Sandi Durell – I’m sitting here in this beautiful setting with Steven Reineke. You’re going into your 3rd season and rather young to have all this responsibility. Perhaps a little daunting?
Steven Reineke – It is daunting to lead the nation’s largest independent house orchestra, following in the footsteps of the great Skitch Henderson. When he passed away, there was a 3 year search to find a replacement and we came across each other and it’s worked out great so far. It’s been a lot of fun and it does get scary. And thank you for calling me young; I just had a birthday and turned 41. A little weird – 40 was one thing, but 41. . . that’s a different thing!
SD – Since you’ve come aboard how have things changed? What’s the most significant change you’ve made?
SR – That’s an interesting question. I would say it’s giving the orchestra a fresh boost of energy and excitement for the players and the type of programming we’re doing. The orchestra is a terrific institution that was always doing well but it was time to reinvigorate it and bring along some younger artists and a different way to present programs with a lot of production values. I like to call them shows rather than concerts with a lot more moving pieces and parts that typically happen in my particular shows.
SD – Well, you’re considered playful. Do you choose all your performers and programs?
SR – I do. I work with my team but being the music director, I have pretty much to say in all this and it’s my guidance to lead the orchestra in the programs we’re going to do and the performers who are going to be with us. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job – putting together all the different parts and pieces.
SD – Since we’re on the topic, talk a little bit about the upcoming season.
SR – Oh, this is a terrific season. We open October 14th with the great music that celebrates Irving Berlin, iconic New Yorker and American, who wrote so many great songs. It’s called Rags to Ritzes. It’s a program put together by a good friend of mine, Jack Everly, as guest conductor. He’s the principal Pops conductor of the Baltimore and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestras, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and Naples Philharmonic. He’s a great friend of mine I’ve known since 1993. The program features Ashley Brown, Tony DeSare, James T. Lane, Hugh Panaro, NaTasha Yvette Williams. A great show.
November, I’m very excited about because I’ll be back for that one. It’s a program called Cheyenne Jackson’s Cocktail Hour: Music of the Mad Men Era. It’s all 50s/60s high fly bossa nova, lounge-swingin’ music; tunes like Besame Mucho, Feelin’ Good, Sway, Luck Be a Lady. We’re going to have the composer of the Mad Men series, David Carbonara. He’s writing a suite for us and he’ll be involved as well.
December we celebrate the holidays with a program New York Pops Wishes You A Swingin’ Christmas. It’ll feature the great guitar player and vocalist John Pizzarelli and his lovely wife Jessica Molaskey and a lot of sounds of the Ella Fitzgerald Christmas Album, and Sinatra; a lot of the swing sounds which will be a little different this year. It’ll be combined with some traditional favorites because we have the Essential Voices USA chorus, one of my favorites, led by Judith Clurman.
The next program we do in March, we’re bringing in Patti Austin, someone I’ve worked with a few times. She does a great program that celebrates the Gershwin Ella Fitzgerald songbook. Gershwin music, Ella Fitzgerald’s versions and great Nelson Riddle orchestrations. We close the season in April with Hollywood Award Winners featuring Academy Award winning scores and songs and also celebrating the 80th birthday of John Williams.
SD – That’s quite a season. What’s the long-range vision?
SR – We have a lot of things in mind. When I create a season, it’s like being a composer as well. When I write a piece of music it has to have these arcs, hills and valleys; a little bit of something for everybody. We do have some long range plans for the orchestra involving recordings and touring and lots to be announced.
SD – You are a composer. When do you find the time?
SR – That, I fit in the cracks. Mostly it hasn’t been composing these days as I’ve been doing a lot of arranging which is how I got started in the Pops conducting business. I was the principal arranger for the Cinncinati Pops Orchestra for 15 years. Now, in the pops world, if we want to do specific music a lot of times that music doesn’t exist for our instrumentation, so I have a stable of arrangers I use around the country who write specific charts for us. Every once in a while there’s one I’m really passionate about and want to do myself, so I’ll sit down and do it here, or in a hotel room somewhere around the world and write new arrangements.
SD – Steven, do you come from a musical family?
SR – Not so much. My father was a banker, my mother a secretary in an elementary school, not particularly musical. But my Dad was a folk guitar player. From the time I can first remember until I was 12 or 13, he’d sit on the edge of my bed, play guitar and sing me to sleep with John Denver, Peter, Paul & Mary; so my first love of music really came from that. And they’ve always been incredibly supportive.
SD – Listening to all you do, I wonder what you do in your free time? Is there any free time?
SR – Free time is a little hard to come by, but what I really love to do is cook; yeah, I love movies, spending time with friends, entertain, I’ll make dinner, have some friends over, we’ll play games. A little known fact is I’m a fanatic at board games – I like things like Parcheesi, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, all kinds of games. Even in my free time, when I’m on airplanes, just to pass the time, I do crossword puzzles. That’s one of my big passions.
There was a time I liked to hike, travel a lot. I hiked the Grand Canyon three times. I really need to find some time to get back to that because I really love being outdoors in nature.
SD – What’s your favorite dish when you’re cooking?
SR – Oh boy, one of my signature meals, has to do with my German heritage, is that I make a really killer Wiener Schnitzel. Instead of doing a traditional spaetzle with it, I do a Fettucine Alfredo. I have my perfect recipe for that.
SD – If you weren’t doing what you do, which is your love and passion, what do you think you might be doing?
SR – I know exactly, and it has to do with the fact that I like to hike and be out in nature. If I was not in music, I’d be a geologist or a park ranger. I’d probably be out at the Grand Canyon leading tours. That’s my other love.
SD – I’d like to hear a secret, something you’ve never told anyone before.
SR – Uh, oh! The first thing that pops to mind, I don’t talk about it much, I have a tattoo. Maestro with the tattoo.
SD – Where?
SR – It’s in a place that not a lot of people see. It’s not that bad. But yes, I have a tattoo.
SD – Would you share what it is?
SR – Hmmm. . . it’s a martini. I like martinis!
SD – That’s open and honest and appreciated. Have a great season, Steven.
SR: – Thank you so much!
**Tickets for The New York Pops 2011/2012 concerts available at 212 247-7800 or www.carnegiehall.org
***See Video Interview here