Co-founder of The Cleveland Pops, Carl Topilow is renowned worldwide for his versatility, whether he's holding a conductor's baton or his trademark red clarinet. This New Year's Eve (December 31, 2013), The Cleveland Pops join forces with Will and Anthony Nunziata to bring you their show "Broadway Nights," featuring some of Broadway's biggest hits with new original orchestrations. This is going to be one celebration you won't want to miss! The Cleveland Pops New Year's concert will play Severance Hall (11001 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106). Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a conductor/musician? I started playing clarinet when I was nine years old. I really loved it and here I am today. Nobody in my family went into music as a profession and I wasn't expected to either, but it sort of became inevitable because this is what I really wanted to do.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I'd love to work with Yo-Yo Ma, Hugh Jackman, and Andrea Boccelli.
3. You co-founded The Cleveland Pops with your wife Shirley. What made you want to take this venture together? Shirley had seen me do these Pops programs and thought I was pretty good at it. The Cleveland Orchestra, which is a world-renowned ensemble, does just a few Pops concerts, so we saw this as an opportunity to fill a void in our community. We've had a lot of support from our board, staff, and community. We've been very fortunate that it has been so successful.
4. What has it been like to see this dream become what it is today? It's a very special environment to have your own orchestra. Everyone's attitude is good, they love playing for the Pops, and Severance Hall is a great venue to host a concert. It's a nice feeling knowing that everybody there is there because they want to be.
5. On December 31, 2013, The Cleveland Pops will be presenting their New Year's Eve concert. What excites you about this upcoming concert? The fact that we are still here is very exciting. It's always a festive evening. I definitely feel it's THE place to be on New Year's Eve. We provide the opportunity to hear a concert in a festive hall, followed by free coffee and dessert while dancing to two bands in two different locations, with a balloon drop at midnight. There is no other celebration like it!
6. Will and Anthony Nunziata are going to be your featured guests as this year's concert. What are you looking forward to most about performing with them? Will and Anthony are terrific performers and wonderful fellas. They have a lot of new arrangements written especially for this evening. We are also doing some selections I've worked on with them in the past, but this concert is their own show, with lots of new material. It's going to be a lot of fun!
7. Since the concert takes place on New Year's Eve, what has been a highlight for you this past year and what are you looking forward to in 2014 with The Cleveland Pops? This past year we had an outstanding season. Our Armed Forces concert was very successful, last year's New Year's Eve concert was terrific, this past February we had Janis Martin, an amazing violinist, pianist singer, and acrobat, we had a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers show, and jazz trumpet player Byron Stripling. One last highlight of this past season was the introduction of our Cleveland Pops Chorus, who is performing on several concerts this season as well.
This year is very exciting with A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, our St. Patricks Celebration with Broadway's "Phantom" Ciaran Sheehan, To Reach The Unreachable Stars, a special tribute to the 25 NASA Astronauts from Ohio, and then ending the season with the 14th Annual Salute To Our Armed Forces. We kicked off our season with Ballroom With A Twist, featuring popular contestants from Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and American Idol which was a big success!
8. In addition to conducting, you are also known for your clarinet playing. What do you get from playing the clarinet that you don't get from conducting? It's really exciting to play with a 55/60 piece orchestra. The clarinet is a very versatile instrument, so I get to play a variety of music such as Hollywood music, Klezmer music, Popular tunes, Swing, and Broadway.
9. What can you tell us about your famous red clarinet? Well, it's inspired from the movie The Red Violin. After seeing that movie, I thought, why not a red clarinet? And so there is. Now, additionally, I have a green, white, and blue clarinet. I often mix-n-match pieces of the clarinet to make a red, white, and blue clarinet, an Italian clarinet, which is red, white, and green, a Chanukah clarinet, a Christmas Clarinet, a St. Patrick's Day clarinet, and a Superman clarinet. It's all fun stuff and has become a bit of trademark for myself.
10. You've been the Pops conductor to other orchestra's around the country. What do you enjoy most about conducting these other symphonies? It's always great to be a guest conductor. I get to go in and see a different part of the country. I've been fortunate between my summer festival and teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music, to conduct these other symphonies because I always run into people I know which is a lot of fun. I get a chance to interact with different musicians and different halls, so it's always a lot fun.
11. Speaking of teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Music, what do you enjoy most about teaching the next generation? When I first got into the profession, I discovered that I really enjoyed conducting college/graduate school-aged students. I worked with a lot of motivated and talented people. I got to rehearse in a different way, I got to teach, which is different than when I conduct a professional orchestra. Whenever I get a note from someone saying how much my teaching meant to them, it really means a lot to me. It's a very rewarding feeling I get inside.
12. What's the best advice you've ever received? Learn how to deal with people and how to participate in healthy compromise. Learn how to find out what's on other people's minds and try to relate to what they are going through. Encourage people and find ways to rally people around to make them feel a sense of team. I like to appeal to people's pride in what they are doing rather than fear tactics. I think it's much more effective to encourage and praise musicians rather than berate them.
13. What have you learned about yourself from being a conductor and musician? I've learned to be organized and play to my strengths, understand my weaknesses, and find out the best way to communicate with people.
14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? It would be nice to have a photographic memory and a perfect ear.
15. Is there something you'd like to share about yourself that most people don't know? I have a lot of interests in life, more than just music. I read a lot, a lot of historical fiction. I speak Italian reasonably. I'm functional in Spanish, French, and German. I like spectator sports, and I've run three marathons.
He is a multi-talented virtuoso who equally at home in classical and popular music both as conductor and instrumentalist. Carl's pops performances blend light classical, swing, jazz, Broadway, Dixieland, and Klezmer music, usually finding occasion to include a number on his array of brightly colored clarinets. His unique approach to pops programming includes extensive audience involvement and true showmanship.
Following his long time dream of conducting his own pops orchestra, Carl founded the Cleveland Pops Orchestra. The orchestra, currently in its 17th season, plays to large audiences in Severance Hall and in several other venues throughout Northeast Ohio. The Cleveland Pops Orchestra's diverse, innovative and electrifying programs have been critically acclaimed. The orchestra has two CDs, Music to Grow On, an exciting collection of music for children and adults of all ages, and Live at the Pops, a stirring compilation of music taken from live performances, as well as several sampler CDs used for promotions.
Carl is also Conductor and Director of the Orchestral Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He is currently in his 33rd year as conductor of the CIM Orchestras, and is also head of the Masters program in orchestral conducting. Graduates of this program can be found as maestros with several leading orchestras.
Carl recently completed his 36th season as Music Director and Conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra, a summer music festival based in beautiful Breckenridge, Colorado. He has assisted in the training of talented young musicians and conductors for positions in symphonic orchestras in the United States and abroad.
In 2008, Carl was appointed Music Director and Conductor of the The Firelands Symphony Orchestra, based in Sandusky, OH, performing 5 masterworks and 1 outdoor pops concert each season. During Topilow's tenure with the orchestra, the number of subscriptions has increased from 56 to 505.
Carl has also served as Principal Pops Conductor for the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra in Ft. Myers, Florida, as well as for the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.
As a guest conductor, Carl has appeared around the world with 110 orchestras, in 36 states in the USA, as well as orchestras in Canada, China, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela.
In addition to his busy conducting schedule, Carl avidly pursues his passion for performing as clarinetist. He often performs with his brother Arthur, a pianist, and the duo can be heard on three CDs, Come in from the Cold, A View from the Top, and Music of America.
Carl is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music, with a degree in clarinet performance and a masters degree in music education. He has held conducting fellowships with the National Orchestral Association with Leon Barzin and the Aspen Music Festival with under Jorge Mester. Carl began his professional career as Exxon Arts Endowment Conductor of the Denver Symphony Orchestra.
Carl's wife Shirley is President and CEO of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra and Director of the Morgenstern Dance Studio. Daughter Emily is a student at Beachwood High School, and studies the violin through the Cleveland Institute of Music Preparatory Department. Daughter Jenny, a graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music and Carnegie Mellon University, is a violinist with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.