Milwaukee Symphony Pops audiences will see the same exciting lineup of quality acts in 2019.20 that they are accustomed to. But they will do it in a new location.
All of the MSO’s Pops programming for next season will be presented at the Riverside Theater, just steps away from the MSO's eventual permanent home. As work continues on the Warner Grand Theater, the MSO’s time in the Marcus Center has been reduced. Since the symphony and the Riverside Theater have had a good working relationship for years, it made sense to move the full block of Pops concerts three blocks south.
“A portion of our audience is already very comfortable with going to the Riverside,” said Susan Loris, executive vice president for institutional advancement. Many past concerts have been presented there, including the recent The Little Mermaid film with orchestra and the upcoming Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back film with orchestra in May.
Some classical programming will move to the Pabst Theater next season, because the Pabst has an acoustic shell to direct the unamplified sound of classical music. Since the Riverside does not have a shell, “it made sense to put all our Pops there,” Loris said. “We believe it will make it easier for our subscribers.”
And Pops subscribers will have an extra benefit next season; they will be able to pre-purchase parking for $5 in The Avenue (formerly the Grand Avenue Mall) parking garage half a block away. The structure has multiple entrances and exits for easy in and out after the concert. “We’ve heard that is important to many of our patrons,” said Loris.
The Milwaukee Symphony has not had a principal pops conductor since Marvin Hamlisch died in 2012, and the organization has decided not to look for one. “Finding a Pops conductor who’s interested in all those genres can be a challenge,” Loris said. “But we have a great relationship with Stuart Chafetz, our former resident conductor. Former music director Andreas Delfs is coming back for the holiday concert, and that’s good for the community and the MSO. And we’re lucky to have Yaniv,” referring to Yaniv Dinur, the MSO’s associate conductor, who leads many Pops concerts.
Although the holiday concert will again feature Delfs and the Milwaukee Handbell Ensemble, for this year only the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus will be absent because the stage of the Riverside is not big enough. For Christmas 2020 in the Warner Grand, audiences can expect to see the full chorus in their new seats in the permanent loft behind the orchestra.
Another regular visitor in Milwaukee has been conductor and arranger Jeff Tyzik. He will not conduct in the coming season, but the Beatles Symphonic Experience for next April is a program that he designed. It is not a tribute band, but with three vocalists, including one woman, “it removes the wigs and makeup and costumes and allows the audience to appreciate the songwriter aspect” of the Fab Four, said John Roloff, director of operations and facilities.
The symphony will continue its popular films with live orchestral soundtrack next season with Home Alone and Return of the Jedi. “Those have been very successful in attracting an audience that has not attended the symphony before,” Loris said. “We always hope to get people to come back for other programming, but if the first step is to go to another movie, we’re thrilled with that.”
The films will be presented as special concerts outside the six-concert subscription package. Several other big names will also present one-night-only special events with the symphony, including a holiday concert with return visitor Leslie Odom, Jr.; his Hamilton castmate Renee Elise Goldsberry; and singer-songwriter Ben Folds, whom Loris said the MSO has been trying to bring to town for years, “and the stars finally aligned and our schedules fit.”
(The symphony’s ongoing performances of the Harry Potter films are presented and scheduled by the Riverside, part of the Pabst Theater Group; announcements about future concerts featuring the symphony will be made later this spring.)
And in upcoming seasons when the symphony has the Warner Grand all to itself, the relationship will continue. Loris said, “There will definitely be programs where the Grand is too small and we will need 2,400 seats.”