Trying to reach wider audiences through pops concerts, orchestras run the risk of lowering their standards and playing just about anything.
"What happens, unfortunately, is that for a lot of pops concerts, (promoters) can't think low enough," says trumpeter-conductor Mark Gould, who opens the Pacific Symphony's fourth outdoor series at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre with a pops concert tonight.
"Whenever you think you've reached rock bottom in musical taste, (someone finds) you can go lower."
But Gould believes it's possible to reach a wide audience "and still have some musical integrity.
"At least that's what I want to do," he says. "There are certain things I will not do. If I think the music is really bad or pandering, I won't do that."
For the Pacific, the 43-year-old guest conductor has put together a program of music by Gershwin, Kern and other American composers. Appearing with the orchestra will be soprano Geraldine McMillian, baritone Peter Lightfoot and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, a pops trio.
Gould also plans to play a cornet solo in honor of jazz great Louis Armstrong, who was born on July 4, 1900. "His birthday ushers in the 20th Century," Gould says. "Then it went straight down from there."
Conducting, he says, is "just one of these things that happened" to him in addition to serving as principal trumpet at the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra since 1974 and teaching at the Juilliard School of Music in New York since 1981.
"I was doing the Waterloo Festival in New Jersey," he says. "Someone got sick. We needed someone to replace him. I said, 'Well, OK.' That was in 1979. It worked out very well. I found I had a little bit of physical talent to wave my arms. It was fun." (Gould directed the Waterloo Festival from 1980 to '84.)
He had always played music, but decided to major in sociology in college.
"I just didn't like music schools," he says. "That kind of thing kills (music). Once it becomes codified, becomes so rigid, that kills it. Not that I knew at that age. I was under the impression I could do something else, which was ridiculous in my case."
After graduation, he worked for a while in a natural foods company in Boston and played in a blues band at night.
"Talk about the antithesis of natural food," he says. "These guys couldn't play without a quart of whiskey to stop their hands shaking. . . . That was my life--whole grains during the day and blues band at night."
Then, "I just said one day, it was time to retire (from that), and I auditioned for the (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra) job."
Still known "mostly" as a trumpet player, he says that "each year there's a little bit more conducting opportunities."
But he plans to continue shuttling between the classical and the jazz worlds. "I have to keep continually inspired," he says. "I can't just stay and do one thing. I have to keep pushing (my music), deepening it."
He admits it takes a lot of practice to keep his skills up in each discipline. "One or the other suffers a bit," he says. "I won't tell you which one."
What: Mark Gould conducts the Pacific Symphony.
When: Thursday, July 4, at 8 p.m. (Grounds open at 6 p.m. Fireworks start at around 10 p.m.)
Where: Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.
Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Irvine Center Drive exit. Turn left at the end of the ramp if you're coming from the south, right if you're coming from the north.
Wherewithal: $12 to $39.50 ($10 for lawn seating). Children's tickets: half price in some locations.
Where to call: (714) 474-4233.