Rachael Worby conducts Pasadena Pops in stirring, dry-eyed final performance


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“It looks like I’m crying, but I’m not,” vocalist Jodi Benson said after her moving rendition of “The Way We Were” at the Pasadena Pops concert Saturday night. “I’m really not emotional, it’s just that I have eyelash glue in my eye.”

Benson was in fact dry-eyed, as was conductor Rachael Worby, who prepared for the downbeat of the next piece. But tear-streaked faces were evident on many of the 2,000 fans picnicking on the grass outside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The song that expresses the nostalgia of memories and lost dreams struck a chord with the crowd attending the final Pops concert conducted by Worby, who announced her resignation as music director in mid-August.


Dressed in slim black pants, knee-length coat and flats, Worby led the concert with characteristic élan, her dark hair swaying with the music as she exchanged meaningful looks with musicians. Her manner was amiable and engaging as she introduced music from movies, including “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Star Wars.” Her bright smile never quivered.

“The Way We Were” is actually as much a statement about the Pasadena Pops’ future. Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the music for the Academy Award-winning song (Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote the lyrics), will take over as the Pops’ music director next summer. Saturday, the orchestra heralded his arrival with colorful pamphlets and recorded announcements.

Worby’s exit came as a surprise. As recently as early August, Worby was announcing ambitious plans for the Pops, including extra concert dates and international tours. Her resignation came on the heels of another abrupt departure: In May, Jorge Mester left as Pasadena Symphony’s director under unclear circumstances.

Though neither Worby nor Mester cited financial reasons as a factor for leaving, the Pasadena Symphony and Pops are experiencing tough financial times. Both conductors took 10% pay cuts last year.

Hamlisch, slated to conduct four concerts in summer 2011, is the pops director for six U.S. orchestras and is considered an enormous audience draw.

In contrast, Worby’s priority is the Pasadena Pops. A 10-year Pasadena resident, she is known for mingling with her audiences before performances, greeting many by name.

As the Saturday night concert concluded, the audience’s ovation was enthusiastic and heartfelt. Worby accepted massive bouquets, took a bow, and promptly left the stage.

-- Daina Beth Solomon