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Conductors pick their pop favorites: Prince? Yes. Elvis? Both.

January 05, 2013|By Rick Schultz

Asking some of the finest classical conductors in the world what pop, jazz or rock music they listen to seemed like a quixotic idea. Even if they had favorites, what were the chances conductors would take time out from their busy schedules to respond?

As it turned out most of those queried did respond, and with gusto. Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony, was asked while in transit to a conducting gig at the Italian Senate for the president of Italy. When he forgot to mention another favorite, he emailed again two days later on his way to Munich because he wanted to add Celine Dion's name to his list.

The collection, tied to this Los Angeles Times story, grew out of random comments made by Detroit Symphony music director Leonard Slatkin during an unrelated interview. After mentioning the British rock bands Emerson, Lake & Palmer and YES, the conductor suddenly said, "People forget how good these groups were. They were astonishingly good musicians."

PHOTOS: Conductors picks their favorites in pop

Would other conductors share Slatkin's enthusiasm? Or would their choices merely be guilty pleasures? Among the responses, there was very little duplication. Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Björk and Prince were chosen more than once, but otherwise these 17 singular conductors came up with different choices.

Marin Alsop was the only conductor to choose the 1960s hard rock band Deep Purple. She also sent a list, too long to include here, showing examples of how Deep Purple and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's English-American band, Rainbow, fused their songs with music by Tallis, Bach, Grieg, Elgar, Richard Strauss, Gershwin and others.

Some of the conductor's responses have been lightly edited for clarity, with their original email formatting largely retained.


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