I was first introduced to Steven Reineke's talent this past December when I attended the NY Pops Holiday concert. After seeing Steven conduct, I immediately knew he was someone I wanted to interview for "Call Me Adam." I'm thrilled to have been given the opportunity to speak with him.
Steven Reineke's boundless enthusiasm and exceptional artistry has made him one of the nation’s most sought-after pops conductors, composers, and arrangers. As Music Director of The New York Pops, Steven conducts the orchestra’s annual Carnegie Hall concert series, leads concert tours, recordings, and nationwide telecasts. He is in the midst of his first season as Principal Pops Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and just last week was named the first ever Principal Pops Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, a position he will begin this fall. In addition, he serves as Principal Pops Conductor of the Long Beach and Modesto Symphony Orchestras through the end of the 2011/2012 season. Previously, he was Associate Conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, where for fifteen years he served as a composer, arranger, and conducting protégé of the late celebrated pops conductor Erich Kunzel. Steven’s notable guest conducting appearances include the Boston Pops, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, and the Hollywood Bowl in 2007. He will be making his Chicago Symphony Orchestra debut on July 4, 2012 at Ravinia.
Steven is also an established symphonic composer, with more than one hundred orchestral arrangements for the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra which can be heard on many of their recordings on the Telarc label. Steven's symphonic works "Celebration Fanfare," "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and "Casey at the Bat" are performed frequently in North America, including performances by the New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic. His "Sun Valley Festival Fanfare" was used to commemorate the Sun Valley Summer Symphony’s pavilion, and his "Festival Te Deum" and "Swan’s Island Sojourn" were debuted by the Cincinnati Symphony and Cincinnati Pops Orchestras. His numerous wind ensemble compositions are published by the C.L. Barnhouse Company and are performed by concert bands around the world.
A native of Ohio, Steven is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio, where he earned bachelor of music degrees with honors in both trumpet performance and music composition. He currently resides in New York City and is represented by Peter Throm Management, LLC.
Now Steven and the NY Pops are teaming up with Grammy Award winner Patti Austin to present a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's Gershwin Songbook on March 16, 2012, the 65th anniversary of Ella's Carnegie Hall debut. Concert goers will be treated to Nelson Riddle’s original symphonic arrangements of Gershwin works in their Carnegie Hall debut – including "I Got Rhythm," "S’Wonderful," and "Our Love Is Here to Stay" – and an appearance by Nelson Riddle’s son, Christopher Riddle. The concert is produced in association with the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation and the Nelson Riddle Foundation. "The New York Pops Presents Ella Fitzgerald's Gershwin Songbook with Grammy Award winner Patti Austin" on March 16, 2012 at 8pm at Carnegie Hall in NYC (57th Street & 7th Avenue). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become conductor/composer/arranger? Several steps along the way got me to where I am today. Conducting was not on my radar at all. I started out with the composition aspect of it. Just having music around since I was young was the first inspiration for me to go into a musical career. I had tunes in my head that I wanted to get out and on paper, so that's how the composition aspect started. As far as specific people, my inspiration came from a lot of the Great American composers like John Williams, Leonard Bernstein, and Aaron Copland. At one point, I really wanted to be a film composer, but as my career continued on, my teacher and mentor, Erich Kunzel, who was the founder and conductor of the Cincinnati Pops, led me into the path of conducting.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I get asked this question from time to time and even though, it's not possible, I always say Ella Fitzgerald who was one of my all time favorite singers. My teacher, Erich Kunzel, was actually good friends with her and he got to work with her all the time. But as far as people with who it's actually possible with, I would love to work with Dolly Parton. I've been such a big fan of hers and for the past 6 or 7 years, we've been trying to work together, but our timing has yet to work out. It would be great to do a retrospective of her life. Me: Oh, that would be great! Steven: Yeah, I'd love that. I would also really like to work with the band Coldplay. Their music has a nice symphonic sweep to it and then combine an 80-piece orchestra with it would be really cool. Dame Shirley Bassey is someone else I've always wanted to work with. I love me some Shirley. Harry Connick Jr. would be great as well. We almost worked together a few years ago, but it didn't come to fruition, but I think he and I would have a lot of fun together.
3. You're going to be teaming up with Patti Austin on March 16 in NYC at Carnegie Hall. What made you want to work with Patti? What excites you about this collaboration? I first met Patti about 5 or 6 years ago in Memphis when we did a concert together with the Memphis Symphony. Patti was doing her tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and of course I was well aware of Patti before this, but we had so much fun working together and really hit it off. So, when this project started to come up, I remembered how terrific she was doing Ella's material. She was not trying to imitate Ella because nobody can. It was really getting the sensibility of the music and the way Patti put her own spin on it was brilliant. She's such a wonderful singer and person, with a great stage presence. I'm excited to be back with her.
4. How did you decide to dedicate the evening to the songs of Ella Fitzgerald's Gershwin Songbook as opposed to another aspect of her music? This really came about as a collaboration with the Nelson Riddle Foundation and the Ella Fitzgerald Trust who are both supporters of the NY Pops. We got into talks with the Nelson Riddle Foundation about the charts that Nelson did for Ella and for her album, as well as many other things. He's one of the greatest arrangers that ever lived. He is certainly a big part of shaping the American Songbook and the sounds to which we know them. We went to them and they said that all of this music from the Gershwin Songbook exists and much of it has not been played since the recording was made, and certainly, to my knowledge, there has not been a live performance of these original Nelson Riddle charts arrangements ever done in NYC. I'm very excited for it.
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after attending this concert? I look at this concert as a tribute to three or four American icons: Ella Fitzgerald, The Gershwin Brothers, and the wonderful craft of the arranger, Nelson Riddle. It's realizing how important and the great contributions all of these people have given to the landscape of American Popular Music and the Great American Songbook.
6. What did it mean to you to become the musical director of the NY Pops? It was monumental and changed my life. I was just really getting started in my conducting career when this came about. I was hired by Modesto Symphony and the Long Beach Symphony and shortly thereafter, I came to the attention of the NY Pops. When I got this job, I was still living in Cincinnati, OH as an assistant there with the Cincinnati Pops, and the NY Pops offered me the opportunity to move to New York City. Many people say it's the center of the world in some ways and it certainly is a cultural mecca. To be able to live in this city and work here has changed my life in immeasurable ways. The people I've met and hang out with and collaborate with have made me a better artist than I ever imagined. Getting to be in this position with the NY Pops was what catapulted me to the next level. Many exciting things have happened since working here.
6a. What is it about the NY Pops that made you want this position? It offers me the opportunity to work with some of the finest musicians in the world. It also allows me to present so many concerts in a wonderful series at Carnegie Hall, which is one of our National Treasures. I think most importantly, this is the only place that I work, where I get to be music director. For a conductor that specializes in Pops, normally, our positions with most orchestras, are considered Principal Pops Conductors, which is sort of what my other titles are with other orchestras. Then there would be a separate musical director that does the classical on top of that. Here this is all we do. This orchestra specializes in Pops and being the nations' largest independent Pops orchestra. We don't have a classical side, per say, so the chance to really build this organization and be the artistic leader of it is incredibly exciting.
7. What do you enjoy about guest conducting with other orchestras around the country? In addition to working with the great musicians in these orchestras, I've also made a lot of good friends in these cities, whether they are patrons or musicians. It's always fun to go and catch up with players and audience members I've gotten to know. Also, I love exploring new cities. And most importantly, the food...hahaha. I always look at my calendar to see where I'm going when and search for my favorite restaurants in certain places. For instance, I'll be in Ft. Worth, TX in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to the best chicken fried steak I've ever had. I've got my BBQ and deep fried burgers in Memphis. I love getting to eat the different food across the country.
7a. You said earlier that you get to know some of the audience members and patrons of the shows you play at. How do you get to know them and what do you like about that interaction with them? It's because of the number of places I get to go back to on a regular basis to be the guest conductor because I've had a relationship with these orchestras for a couple of years. I have the opportunity before and after concerts to meet patrons and I also do a lot of meet and greets with fund raising benefits where they have a soiree in the green room afterwards and I get to stop by there to meet our sponsors and other attendees.
I love meeting my fans, sponsors, and patrons. I'm not one of those conductors/musicians who put up a wall between myself and the orchestra/audience. Even when I'm on the road with an orchestra that is not mine, I want to shake hands with the people that are coming. I want to meet them and answer questions and get to know them a little bit.
8. What's your favorite part of the creative process in making your own orchestral arrangements? Where is your favorite place to create them? I've always had a sense for the theatrical. I really like to craft an arrangement and think of them as one act plays in and of themselves and really create a scene or landscape in some way. I like the broad strokes of being able to think about that. One of my other favorite things is the physical orchestration of when I work on an arrangement. The fun part of the grand scheme in creating an arrangement is figuring out how it's all going to flow and then to make that happen with the specific orchestrations, for instance, I need a bass player here, the violas doing this, and I need an English Horn here, is like painting to me. I'm the painter with his palette of colors who's going to create something with various combinations of colors. That is one of the most fascinating things to me in creating music. I love being able to put it all together.
By far, my favorite place to create them is here in NYC in my condo. My workstation office is off of my bedroom which has a huge floor to ceiling window that overlooks Times Square. Just to know and to always be reminded that I'm here in the middle of Manhattan is a very frenetic and wonderful place to work. It keeps me energized and excited.
9. What does it mean to have your arrangements played by other orchestras? It feels great! I feel very lucky that I started my career as an arranger with the Cincinnati Pops. I've written well over 200 arrangements and the fact that they get played makes me very happy because it means that they have a life. The fact that they can have a life beyond the original concert in which I wrote them for makes me feel very good. I'm glad people enjoy them and they are not sitting around collecting dust. Plus, it's nice to receive the royalty checks that come in the mail...hahaha.
10. What have you learned about yourself from being a conductor/composer/arranger? I have learned a lot about responsibility. I have learned about myself the fact that I've been given a talent for whatever reason. There is a big responsibility that comes with that when you realize that and believe it to be true. That responsibility is finding a way to use that talent. It can be daunting too, because you are always wondering if you will be good enough, especially earlier on when you're just starting out, but at the same time, I can't imagine doing anything else in my life. This is what I was born to do. I know plenty of people who have yet to find their passion, so I feel fortunate that mine was clear.
The other thing it's taught me is what I'm actually capable of. I say this because there was a time in my life when I considered myself to be lazy. It was before I understood this notion of owning up to the responsibility of having a specific talent. I look back and I'm surprised at certain things I've been able to accomplish or pull off. It has shown me that if you dig down deep and put in enough hard work, dedication, and the right team of people around you, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? There's probably two things here. The first one might sound like it's very specific to my composition and arranging, but I'll explain how it goes further than that. When I was in college, I was having a composition master class with the wonderful composer Malcolm Arnold and he was a very interesting man. He was looking at one of my compositions and he asked me such questions as, "What is this part here for? Why did you score this in the bass clarinet here? Why is this happening? Why is the tuba doing the same thing here that the bassoons are?" I would never have a great answer. What he taught me was don't waste anything. Don't put it on the page unless you can have a reason why and you can back it up and there is a clear musical reason behind it. A lot of young composers tend to dress things up too much without knowing exactly why they are putting what they put on the paper. I say this is a great piece of advice because it's certainly helped me an awful lot with my writing. I still think about it all the time and I still teach it when I'm working with younger students. I look at it in my life too, especially the more my career has taken off and the more responsibilities I have to do on a day to day basis. I try to have in my life what is important and essential to me without having to get cluttered with extraneous things that aren't necessary.
The other piece of advice was given to me by Erich Kunzel and it specifically had to do with trying to make a career in music and being successful at it. The advice was about always paying attention to your audience first and foremost. Many conductors will want to put their own ego first and foremost. It was a great piece of advice and I think about it every time I'm putting together a season, every time I'm crafting a program, and every time I'm writing an arrangement. I think of the audience's needs, wants, and desires and their entertainment first. Then I think about the orchestra, the players, the health of the organization, what's going to challenge them and what are they going to enjoy playing, and finally I think about myself. Me: This advice can also correlate to your everyday life too because your audience could be taken as anyone you meet. Steven: Exactly.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Superman because of his power to fly. I dream about flying frequently and every time I have a dream that I'm flying, I just wake up in the best place spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. I feel really good. I've done some research on it and it's a sign of creative people. If I had one super power, flying would be it.
13. Favorite way to spend your day off? I love to be a homebody. A great day would be to cook brunch with some friends, maybe go see a matinee, figure out what I'm gonna make for dinner, and maybe play some board games. Really, just spending some time with friends and having some relaxing low key time. If I could have a fantasy day off and teleport myself or fly like Superman, I would go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Just being on the water is great for me.
13a. Favorite way to stay in shape? I get a whole lot of cardiovascular because of conducting, so you are not going to find me at the gym. I also like to walk a lot and when I'm in other cities, I like to walk around them and explore. When I'm home in NY, I just walk everywhere, which is one reason I love living here.
14. Boxers or Briefs? Boxer briefs. They just fit well. The right amount of support without being too confining.
15. Favorite website? Facebook. It's been a great way to connect with friends and family around the world and to keep up with fans.
16. "Mary" or "Rhoda"? MTM.