Pop culture stew could prove satisfying

If David Lynch, Salvador Dali or some other surrealist master were given the task of programming a symphony concert, he or she might concoct something akin to this week's offering at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

First, take an orchestra that recently performed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and have it play a tribute to 20th-century American composers plus a selection from the fantasy video game "Diablo III." Then, to cap off the evening, bring in Gladys Knight, the woman who sang lead on "Midnight Train to Georgia" and other 1970s soul hits.

Perhaps it's not the typical program of Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. But Eimear Noone, the guest conductor for the Pacific Symphony Pops shows this week, considers it just as potent a display of music's power.

"It's fun to do something a little out of the ordinary sometimes, and I think there is something in common with these," said Noone, who conducted the Pacific Symphony in the original "Diablo III" recording. "I mean, Gladys' music has real rhythm and real soul, so I went for that in programming the first half. We have some great rhythmic pieces. To me, Leonard Bernstein was the king of rhythm. Then we have some beautiful, soulful pieces, like 'Leah' from 'Diablo III.'

"It really has the best of what American music has to offer. It all makes sense in a strange sort of way."

Then again, eclecticism is the norm for the Pacific Symphony Pops, whose schedule this season includes hosting original cast members from "Jersey Boys" and playing the original score from "Singin' in the Rain" alongside a screening of the film. Earlier this year, saxophone icon Kenny G took center stage with the orchestra.

Richard Kaufman, the series' regular conductor, said a Pops orchestra barely differs at all from a regular one in terms of instrumentation. The distinction, he said, is one of attitude.

"The only real difference may be that because of the tremendous variety of styles presented on a Pops series, the musicians are called upon to perform in many more varied musical styles than on a regular classical series," Kaufman wrote in an email.

Noone, who will substitute for Kaufman as Pops conductor this week, knows all about varied styles. Born in Ireland, she trained as a classical musician and took a brief job with fellow Trinity College Dublin students helping to record a piece for a video game. At the time, she said, she thought little of it — but when the game, "Metal Gear Solid," went on to sell millions of copies, she found a door had opened.

In the ensuing years, Noone went on to work on "World of Warcraft," "StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty" and "Diablo III." For the latter, released by Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment, she and the Pacific Symphony recorded at Segerstrom Hall.

Knight, who was not available for an interview, will make her Pacific Symphony Pops debut this week. Noone called her a longtime favorite singer, as did Eileen Jeanette, who handles acoustics for the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and said she planned to arrange "a lot of fabric in the room" for a loud show.

With so many styles combined on this week's bill, Noone imagined the shows could attract everyone from Motown fans to video gamers. So does she count herself in the latter group? As a conductor, yes. As a player, maybe not.

"I'm horrible at them," Noone said. "Absolutely awful. I normally get my husband and my stepdaughter to trounce me on them."


Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

If You Go

What: Gladys Knight with Eimear Noone and the Pacific Symphony Pops

Where: Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday

Cost: $25 to $185

Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org

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