There’s good reason to expect some of the old standards this year at Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s (SSO) holiday pops concert, performed next week at Benaroya Hall. “White Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” “Joy to the World” and “Winter Wonderland” are all on the bill.
Less anticipated, perhaps, is the spin Jeff Tyzik will give some of the show’s seasonal tunes in his first Seattle appearance since becoming SSO’s new principal pops conductor.
“I’ve been doing holiday concerts for the past 25 years,” Tyzik says.
“I set about creating interesting arrangements of familiar pieces, trying to do something a little different. It’s always a challenge to take something people have heard thousands of times and say, what can I do that is new and still respectful?”
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No less than six of the tunes in the program are arranged or orchestrated by Tyzik, 61. One example of his fresh approach will be the concert’s opener, “Christmas Overture,” essentially variations on “Deck the Halls.”
“In three minutes it goes from sounding like Mozart to sounding like Count Basie, then ending like ‘The Firebird.’ It’s a fun, new take on the theme. There’s also ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ which follows the form of ‘Bolero’ and has ‘Bolero’-like solos in it.”
For many people, experiencing that creative stamp will be a good introduction to Tyzik, who has succeeded the late Marvin Hamlisch as SSO’s pops conductor. Tyzik also will be leading Christmas productions for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, for whom he has been principal pops conductor since 1994.
Tyzik is also principal pops conductor for the Vancouver (B.C.) and Oregon symphony orchestras, and is heavily in demand year-round in North America with his winning reputation for audience engagement and a colorful background straddling both jazz and classical music. In 2013, he assumes the pops conductor post for the Detroit Symphony as well.
Born in Hyde Park, N.Y., Tyzik’s passion for music awoke at age 7 or 8 while watching a parade.
“A drum corps went marching by, and I liked the sound of the bugle,” he says. “My birthday was right around the corner, so I said I wanted a bugle. But my birthday came and I opened up this case, and in it was this thing.”
That thing was a cornet. Tyzik began taking lessons from 77-year-old Elmer Musselman, who had played in New York in the 1920s.
Tyzik eventually switched to trumpet, playing in a bar on weekends while in high school. He studied classical fare at the Eastman School of Music, then worked for jazzman Chuck Mangione “for seven years as producer and lead trumpet. That started me where I am today.”
Tyzik acknowledges several musical mentors, including Doc Severinsen, for whom he co-wrote a trumpet concerto and produced a Grammy-winning album.
In time, Tyzik began conducting symphony orchestras, bringing a synthesis of his eclectic experiences.
“I look at the total audience who might enjoy a symphony orchestra,” he says, “all the different tastes. My goal is to program really great music, using the widest possible range of genres: film music, classical music, Latin music, anything that can draw in an audience.
“Everyone hears symphony orchestras in movies, in so many different ways. My mission is to help the survival of the symphony orchestra by drawing as many people into the theater as I can.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com