Cincinnati Pops’ exuberant conductor John Morris Russell (affectionately known as “JMR”) takes a moment out of his busy season preparation to fill us in on the sweet sounds we can hear at Music Hall this fall! From the crooning legacy of hometown hero Rosemary Clooney to the 88 miles-per-hour energetic rush of Back to the Future LIVE in Concert, there’s something for everyone. 

What are you most looking forward to this fall? 

Megan Hilty with Cincinnati PopsI am THRILLED to be working with Megan Hilty again! She is an extraordinary talent, a real sweetheart to work with. “…We’ll be performing the Rosemary Clooney songbook together here in Rosie’s “hometown”. Megan[‘s] voice has many of the same legendary qualities. Megan had no idea that Rosie was considered royalty in Cincinnati, and had performed numerous times with Erich Kunzel and The Pops; when I gave Megan the full scoop, we immediately hatched a plan to create a tribute concert together.

Which performance do you think will be the most popular for all audiences?

We spend a lot of time designing ALL our concerts to be popular for everyone...that’s why we’re The Pops! Opening weekend’s Hollywood’s All-time Greatest Film Scores has all the classic film music The Pops is famous for, and the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future performed with a live orchestral soundtrack is going to blow people away. The Rosemary Clooney songbook is packed with her biggest hits, and Holiday Pops remains one of Cincinnati’s most beloved seasonal traditions. It’s impossible to pick just one!

What behind-the-scenes scoop can you give us on these fall concerts?

Creating a brand new show, like the one we’re developing with Megan Hilty, means arranging around an hour’s worth of new music for our orchestra. We’ve had a handful of composers and arrangers working all summer for November’s concert, writing arrangements based on the classic Nelson Riddle charts that helped shape Rosemary Clooney’s sound. We are also crafting a couple of new arrangements for September’s opening concerts, including Ennio Morricone’s music for “The Mission”. A new arrangement is like a custom-made suit: every note, for every instrument of the orchestra, for every split-second of sound, is carefully selected to create a sound world that is unique to the Cincinnati Pops. It’s one of the things that make us the greatest pops orchestra on the planet!

Is your organization trying anything new this fall? 

One of the newest concert formats we have taken up in recent years has been performing film soundtracks live with the original motion picture. The film is played in its entirety with all the dialogue and sound effects, but the orchestral soundtrack is performed live by The Pops, simultaneously with the film. It’s like the most awesome “sensuround” you have ever experienced. It is CRAZY difficult to coordinate, but a digital “click-track” and video cuing makes it look easy. Back to the Future with a blazing score by Alan Silvestri will be performed September 19 and Home Alone with the heartfelt score of John Williams is performed Thanksgiving weekend November 28. If you have never experienced a film with orchestra, it is a MUST.