Symphony names pops conductor, assistant maestro

The Modesto Symphony Orchestra has hired a pops conductor whose first season will include working with an Abba tribute band and circus performers.

Steven Reineke, the 37-year-old principal arranger at the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, conducted the Modesto orchestra's Holiday Pops concert in December.

The orchestra also has hired Ming Luke to serve as assistant conductor. A director and conductor for Berkeley Symphony education programs, Luke will lead family and educational concerts and conduct the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The pops series, which the Modesto Symphony Orchestra started this season, is designed to attract people who normally wouldn't attend orchestra concerts.

"We do lighter classics and engage a lot of fun, world-class entertainment, anything from rock 'n' roll to big-band jazz, all kinds of acts like that, which are more in the entertainment mode," Reineke said.

Reineke and Luke start in September. MSO officials declined to disclose their salaries.

Pops concerts schedule:

An Abba tribute concert featuring platinum-selling Finnish band Rajaton for Picnic at the Pops in September.

Holiday Pops concert in December.

"Let's Go to the Movies," featuring singers, dancers and film clips from Charlie Chaplin through "Harry Potter" in March.

"Cirque de la Symphonie," featuring Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats, contortionists and aerialists on stage in June.

Details and ticket prices will be announced later. Paul Jan Zdunek, the orchestra's president and chief executive officer, said Reineke and the pops series will help the orchestra connect across musical preferences and community cultures.

Reineke, who lives in Cincinnati, said he is excited to direct his own pops series for the first time and to perform in the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Raised in Ohio, Reineke got his interest in music from his father, an amateur folk singer and guitar player who would serenade him nightly before he went to sleep. Reineke started playing trumpet at age 10 and studied the instrument at Miami University before switching to composition and conducting.

He moved to Los Angeles for two years to study film composition before joining acclaimed conductor Erich Kunzel at the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

"I cannot complain about being Erich Kunzel's assistant the last 13 years," Reineke said. "He's the most famous pops conductor on the planet and the best teacher I could ask for."

For fun, Reineke watches movies, cooks and plays board games and Wii video games.

He said the pops series is a great step forward for the orchestra. His goals next season?

"Build trust with the audience so that they know every time they come in those doors, they're going to get world-class entertainment," Reineke said.

Staff writer Lisa Millegan may be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com. or 578-2313.