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Florida Orchestra names Jeff Tyzik pops conductor

Jeff Tyzik is the new principal pops conductor of the Florida Orchestra. When he takes over next season, it will be the fourth orchestra with a pops program under his direction, and he has the frequent flier miles to prove it.

"At one point, I had 600,000 miles with American and 500,000 miles with United," said Tyzik, already pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, the Oregon Symphony and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

Tyzik, 60, will be only the third conductor to lead the pops series in the Florida Orchestra's 44-year history. He fills a position that has been open since 2009.

"I first started conducting there about 20 years ago when Skitch Henderson was pops music director," said Tyzik, who has conducted up to a dozen different programs with the orchestra through the years. "I've always had a great rapport with this orchestra. Like every orchestra in this country, they've been through some tough times. But I've noticed a spirit in the orchestra that transcends the difficulties."

Tyzik's longest tenure is with the Rochester Philharmonic, with whom he has been principal pops conductor for 18 years and is under contract until 2016. He lives in the upstate New York city, where he went to the Eastman School of Music.

CEO Michael Pastreich isn't concerned about Tyzik's busy schedule. "That he's in demand just shows the level of leadership that the Florida Orchestra is able to attract," he said. "We do our booking three years out and will be able to accommodate his schedule."

The new Florida pops conductor will lead two programs in the 2012-13 season, beginning with three concerts of movie music on Thanksgiving weekend. In the following season, he will take on a more prominent role in the series of eight pops programs.

"My responsibility is going to be to conduct the majority of the concerts on the series, probably five of them," Tyzik said. "I will help to program the entire season so we can try to maintain some level of consistency in terms of our vision of what the pops should look like and in terms of the integrity of the concerts."

With his appointment, announced Thursday, Tyzik follows the late Henderson, who held the position from 1987 to 2000, and Richard Kaufman, pops conductor from 2004 to 2009. During the past three seasons, pops concerts were in the hands of guest conductors, some of whom were potential candidates.

"We started out with a list of nine or 10 candidates, and scaled it down to four or five, then two," said Jack Schierholz, a St. Petersburg businessman who chaired the search committee. The eight-person committee was equally divided among members of the board and management and musicians in the orchestra.

Along with Tyzik, the other finalist was Stuart Malina, the orchestra's principal coffee concert conductor who also has led pops programs. Sarah Hicks, a frequent pops conductor with the orchestra, was in the running until near the end.

Schierholz became convinced Tyzik was the right choice after he heard him lead the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in a program the conductor created, "A Night at the Cotton Club," featuring trumpeter Byron Stripling. "It was a barn burner," the search committee chair said of the program, which the Florida Orchestra will play under the new pops conductor next March.

Tyzik agreed to a three-year contract with the orchestra in a meeting with Pastreich and operations director Angela Cassette in May in Rochester. His compensation was not disclosed.

"I think we're looking at this as an evergreen situation," Tyzik said. "Every year that we're happy working together, on we go. I'm more interested in how well the musicians and I work together and how well we execute great concerts and how we like each other. As long as they're excited about me, and I'm excited about them, I think the relationship will continue."

Before he became a symphonic conductor, Tyzik was a top jazz trumpet player and key member of Chuck Mangione's popular band in the 1970s. He also has longtime ties with trumpeter and former Tonight show bandleader Doc Severinsen. Tyzik produced a Grammy Award-winning album by Severinsen and co-composed a trumpet concerto that he premiered.

Does Tyzik still play trumpet? "Now and then," he said. "I take it out when I can do it well and it's appropriate."

Tyzik is a talented composer, arranger and orchestrator, and he brings an extensive library of his own music to the job.

"Most of the time you'll find my arrangements in every concert," he said. "That's because I love creating music that shows what an orchestra can do. It's always my priority to feature the orchestra and not necessarily an artist or some production."

The Florida Orchestra pops series can use a boost. This past season, it had 1,152 subscribers, down from 1,518 in 2008-09, though single-ticket sales are often substantial, depending on the program or guest artists. Sold-out programs recently have included the holiday pops and Cirque de la Symphonie.

Lowell Adams, assistant principal cello and a member of the search committee, thinks Tyzik's appointment will help to energize the pops series. That will be important to the orchestra's identity, because music director Stefan Sanderling is on the way out. He announced a year ago that his last season is 2013-14.

"Now we'll have a pops series with a face on it, and we need that, especially with a lame duck music director," the cellist said.

Tyzik relishes making a connection with the audience.

"I'm not known for being a comedian, though on a kids' concert I did once come out in a Darth Vader costume," he said. "But if I have a chance to give people information about the music in an entertaining way, I'm all for it. I love bringing the audience into the performance."

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.

Florida Orchestra names Jeff Tyzik pops conductor 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:00pm]

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