Dallas — The Dallas Symphony Orchestra announced in July that Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik will stay on for another three years. It’s a smart move for DSO: Tyzik, who replaced previous Pops Conductor Marvin Hamlisch after his untimely death, is direct about his tastes and his clear vision for the Pops program. He carefully constructs the story he wants to tell based on the music selected, and he’s got a good one with this year’s season opener: a celebration of Frank Sinatra on his 100th birthday. European jazz star Curtis Stigers will accompany Tyzik and the orchestra on vocals and saxophone. Expect to hear such songs as "Come Fly With Me," "I've Got the World on a String," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "The Lady is a Tramp" and "Fly Me to the Moon."
The Sinatra opener will be a special celebration of the season as well as Tyzik’s contract extension. Tyzik recently sat down with TheaterJones to talk about what makes Sinatra so fresh after all these years, missing out on Woodstock, and the kinds of programs he refuses to conduct.
TheaterJones: You’ve been coming to Dallas for quite awhile now. How did you begin with DSO and what keeps you coming back?
Jeff Tyzik: I came to Dallas 12 years ago as a visiting conductor. I was immediately impressed by the orchestra, it’s truly one of the best in the world. I’ve really grown to love Dallas. I have my favorite restaurants here now. I always enjoy when it’s on my schedule.
On average, how much time do you spend here before a show opens?
I arrive the week before the concerts open and spend that time in rehearsal.
How do Pops performances and audiences differ from classical ones? Is there much crossover?
Some people can’t stand to sit through a classical performance, and that’s okay. It’s what makes POPS so great. It’s a really relaxed experience. After almost every song I do some talking, which helps the audience follow along and get a sense of what’s going on. In classical performances the program will have some explanations that help with the experience. I try to give them everything in a Pops concert.
Is the Pops orchestra any smaller, or does it use different pieces?
No. It’s exactly the same orchestra. There is no difference between pops and classical. Which makes it great. This orchestra is so great and it really makes these performances special.
What’s the main thing you want to bring to the stage in a performance?
Well, the main thing is the story I want to tell. Sinatra is great for this.
Have you always been a Sinatra fan?
About 10 or 15 years ago I really started listening to Sinatra intently. My wife and I would listen to him on road trips. I could listen to the same song 10 times and it always felt fresh to me. He had this amazing way of telling a story. He used his voice to be incredibly precise with his diction. It was his way of conveying emotion. No matter whom he was working with his voice could capture the feel and he used that beat to fit in with the ensemble. It was a true talent.
Will your arrangements differ from his much?
No. They will be the same as what Sinatra used. We want to stay as faithful as possible to that original story.
What did you grow up listening to?
The Beatles, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Miles Davis, jazz. A very eclectic mix. But there wasn’t any music being played in my house. My parents were from a different era. They were working class.
So how did you become so involved with music?
I belonged to an excellent elementary music program in Hyde Park, New York, which is where I started. I was able to start a little earlier than most kids do, actually, so I was a little ahead. I listened to the radio quite a bit. I listened intently to the way music was changing from the 1950s to the 1960s. One weekend my friends invited me out to this big music festival that was happening upstate. I decided not to go and just missed out on Woodstock.
What was your first instrument?
I became really interested in the bugle. I asked for it for Christmas and got this shiny thing with buttons. It was a trumpet.
Is there anything you’re sick of conducting?
I’m pretty lucky that I don’t really have to do anything I don’t want to do.
So what do you turn down?
Well, I was once asked by a company to conduct a program of old TV show themes. I told them I didn’t really think there was much musical value in that. I sometimes let my integrity get in the way of doing something corny. I was also asked to do a holiday program—which I love—but this one wanted to incorporate all these male cheerleaders on stage. I told them I wasn’t really into making cheerleaders part of the program, so I turned it down.
What’s the best thing about coming to Dallas?
The Arts District is really great, and like I said, this orchestra is one of the best in the world. One night I took about 20 musicians and we went down to Klyde Warren [Park] and just played ragtime. There were several thousand people there. It was such a great experience. I always look forward to coming back here.