Pop music series is a strategic move by Calgary’s orchestra

Mama mia, here we go again.

 The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) is continuing to expand its pop and rock music series, bringing audiences the sounds of Pink Floyd, ABBA and Sting this season, and recently performing music of the Beatles in September.

Michael Hope has been a bassoonist with the CPO for 30 years, and said he enjoys the energy that pop music performances bring to the audience.

“What’s great about doing this kind of music is that we can tell it has an instant resonance with the audience,” he said.

“Any time a performer knows that he or she is connecting with the people in the concert hall, that’s the best.”

Director of sales and marketing, Marylou Bennetts, recalled bringing her brother for the first time last year to see a performance of music by Queen.

“At one point during the concert people leapt out of their seats to dance in the aisle, waving their phones around. He just looked at me and asked, ‘Is this okay?’ before joining in as well.”Marylou Bennetts and Michael Hope have seen the CPO’s fortunes rise in recent years.

Photo By: Geoffrey Picketts

People jumping out of their seats and waving lighters in the air may be commonplace at rock concerts, but it is not an image normally associated with a night out at the symphony.

“That’s not supposed to happen at a Beethoven concert,” Hope said.

The continued expansion of popular music to the CPO’s performance lineup highlights the success of the shows for Calgary’s once-bankrupt orchestra.

“When I first started here eight years ago we would do one rock ‘n’ roll show per season, and now we are doing four,” Bennetts said.

“Last year we had 28 sellouts and we’re seeing our audience grow not only for the rock ‘n’ roll shows, but we had an eight per cent increase in our classics audience last year as well.”

These increases seem to indicate that the CPO’s marketing objective of using pop music to draw a bigger crowd is working. But is it a stretch to think that somebody interested in music by Pink Floyd might return to hear music by Tchaikovsky?

The first “rock ‘n’ roll hits” show of the season featured music from the Beatles on September 23. First-time concert goers Clarissa McAndrews, 22, and Ralohn Hunt, 29, weighed in after the performance.

“It was kind of unorthodox for an orchestra,” Hunt said. “There were guys with tie-dye shirts on in there. That’s not your regular orchestra.”

“I thought it was really good, definitely different,” McAndrews added. “I would totally come again.”

Hunt agreed. “Even if it’s Mozart or Tchaikovsky, I would definitely come to hear them play again.”

“We are Calgary’s orchestra and so we want to make sure that we are relevant to the community and playing a wide mix of music so that people choose us as their entertainment choice,” stated Bennetts.

For the CPO’s complete 2011/2012 schedule, go its website at cpo-live.com.

gpicketts@cjournal.ca