Rosenfelt and conductor Larry Blank will unveil the next stage, a 45-piece pops orchestra in residence, on July 20 at 7 p.m. for a “best of Broadway” show featuring selections from “The Lion King,” “Hairspray,” “Les Misérables,” “Jersey Boys,” “Phantom of the Opera” and “Rent.” Dubbed the Pullman Pops, the group will possibly perform more concerts, including a film concert series, this fall. Rosenfelt said Pullman Pops could even offer enough shows for a subscription series of concerts next year.
“Our intention was always to create a place where we can present what we think of as high-end art but maybe packaged in a more commercially accessible way,” Rosenfelt said.
For now, the orchestra is together for only one performance with a rehearsal the day before, but Rosenfelt is banking that the caliber of the music making, along with the alfresco location, will generate demand among concertgoers that have been waiting for the return of live music.
“I think our setting and our presentation is going to be quite unique,” he said. “And it is a differentiator.”
In addition to serving as the site of early Black labor unions, the space is the meeting point of Atlanta civil rights, architectural and locomotive histories, he said. He did allow that opening a new venue with a symphony orchestra instead of an arena rock group might not be the most logical idea for a first show, but he wanted to set the tone for the space moving forward.
To put the band together, Rosenfelt met with conductor Larry Blank, a self-proclaimed “three-time Tony Award loser” who currently leads the Pasadena Pops in California and has a long history of Broadway conducting and film orchestration. (His most recent association with the Atlanta area came in the form of “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square,” which filmed in and around the city.) Blank enlisted local musician veterans Jeanne and Tony Carere to compile a roster of local musicians who regularly gig for shows at the Atlanta Ballet, the Fox Theatre, the Atlanta Opera and regional symphony orchestras in the area.
The cancellation of virtually all live performances for more than a year has left a huge hole in the schedules of many local musicians. Organizations like the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have been able to showcase its musicians through virtual concerts, but there have only been so many opportunities. In that respect, Jeanne Carere said finding the right musicians wasn’t hard.
“We were able to fill everything with the top freelancers that we wanted right off the bat,” she said. “Everybody’s just way more appreciative, of course, coming out of COVID because they’ve been sitting on their hands for a year and four months.”
Carere said the majority, if not all, of the musicians she contacted for the show have been fully vaccinated. She’s also been paying attention to the COVID-19 protocols enacted by other pops orchestras around the country, but the outdoor setting of the show makes COVID-19 precautions a little easier to enact.
Credit: Courtesy of Larry Blank
Credit: Courtesy of Larry Blank
When putting together this first concert, Blank, who will conduct the group, dug through his library of orchestrations to find engaging music that could fit the celebratory feeling of launching a new spot for music.
“We’re not going to sit there and play the overture to ‘The Sound of Music,’” he said. “It’s gonna be fresh stuff and a little bit more contemporary and varied.”
Orchestras have tried for a fresh and contemporary approach before with mixed success, but Blank thinks the talent of the musicians, the strength of the music and the quality of the venue itself will work together to create an experience that’s currently hard to find in the city.
“I think this is going to appeal to locals, tourists and a lot more young people who are going to the Pullman Yard for other events,” Blank said. “It’s much more casual, which I think really attracts people.”