Four times a year, the Portland Symphony Orchestra lets down its hair for its contemporary music series for the whole family, PSO POPS! This weekend they’re bringing Beatles fans Sgt. Pepper at 50 complete with a rock band, singers and of course their larger-than-life- sweep-you-off-your-feet lush sound of the entire orchestra to back it all up. And music fans are chomping at the bit for this marriage in sound. “Even from their earliest success, The Beatles were celebrated not just by adoring fans but by ‘serious’ music critics who compared their compositions to the titans of music. They were eternally curious artists who had the serendipity to be paired in the studio with producer George Martin, a classically trained musician who could forge their groundbreaking ideas into reality,” said Joe Boucher, PSO Concert Manager and one of the creator of two retro pops concerts that tour the nation rocking out full symphony concert halls (Piano Men and Classic Rock).
It was The Beatles that first inspired Jeffrey Reed, the Portland Symphony’s guest conductor and creator of Sgt Pepper at 50 to create his first retro concert. He now has 18 retro-concert offerings from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
The conductor of this "retro concert experience," Jeffrey Reed.
“It was a TV commercial for Beatles 1, a CD of the Beatles’ number one hits. My two children were just toddlers at the time. Every time the ad came on the TV, they sang along to the five-second excerpts of each song. It occurred to me that the Beatles really did have a multi-generational appeal. That lead to the idea of creating a concert with vocalists, a rock band and an orchestra, in which we presented record copies of the original recordings. In other words, I didn’t want it to be elevator music, but a loyal recreation of what people heard on the albums.” Out of the 18 retro concerts Reed offers to tour, he claims his first concert, “Beatlemadness” is still the most memorable. It was so well-received he repeated it the next year, doubling ticket sales and the third year, doubling them again. It was offered through his home orchestra six years in a row.
When asked what was the highlight of his conducting experience, Reed answered, “conducting the Royal Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England. The pop icon Neil Sedaka asked me to fill in for a British conductor who canceled. I had never conducted Neil’s show before. And I only got to rehearse a few things with him. Needless to say, I was pretty nervous, given that it was a sold-out concert in a famous concert venue with a world-class orchestra. It went well and I have conducted all of his orchestra shows since, including a second appearance in London.”
The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s mission is to serve its community by enriching lives through music and the pops series draws in overflowing crowds that might not otherwise be interested in listening to its world-class performers on stage. But when a person sits in Merrill Auditorium for the first and experiences 20 violins, six cellos, 8 violas, 5 basses, timpani, percussion, clarinets, oboes, flutes, trumpets, trombones, horns, tuba, harp and all of the various 60 to 85 musicians who’ve been practicing up to eight hours a day all of their lives perform live together, enriched seems too light of a word for the experience. Reed has managed to tap into the pulse of the average music lover to lure them into the world of an extraordinary symphony experience.
Seth Godin, author of seven international marketing bestselling sings Reed’s praises in his book, Small is the New Big, “Jeff…has figured out a totally different way to look at the [orchestra] situation…By taking advantage of clever programming…Jeff is putting on a show—a show that people want to experience…Nice work, Jeff.”
Since the Beatles were known for being musically advanced compared to other pops groups, it is little wonder that Reed returned to the Fab Four for inspiration as the Sgt. Pepper album celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Lynn Klosterman is a former white-water rafting company owner and arts council executive director. After moving to Maine last year, she enjoyed her first PSO POPS! concert under Jeffrey Reed’s baton, Pet Sounds, the Music of the Beach Boys.