On PBS, Luke Frazier and his APO are DC’s musical ambassadors

On PBS, Luke Frazier and his APO are DC’s musical ambassadors

When COVID threw its proverbial wrench at effectiveness corporations in 2020, Maestro Luke Frazier took a deep breath. He then sat down to map a way via the pandemic for the American Pops Orchestra, the DC-centered orchestra he established in 2015. Carrying out indoors was out of the dilemma, but with correct distancing and other safety protocols, Frazier located a way to coordinate two outside concert events. His orchestra collected on the grounds of Meridian Home, a lush, historic household designed by architect John Russell Pope, located concerning the White Dwelling and Embassy Row. There, Frazier introduced a concert termed Ella Wishes You a Swinging Xmas, based on the music of Ella Fitzgerald and featuring a star-studded slate of singers together with Norm Lewis and Vanessa Williams. PBS caught wind of the venture.

“PBS was thrilled that we ended up generating new information at a time when handful of firms have been,” Frazier remembers. “Especially a demonstrate showcasing Ella Fitzgerald with these kinds of mass attractiveness.” So they asked if they could film it. In spite of COVID and a restricted finances, Ella Needs You a Swinging Christmas grew to become a hit for PBS, garnering a lot more tv viewers, Frazier claims, than that year’s Kennedy Centre Honors.

New music Director Luke Frazier (still left) conducts the American Pops Orchestra (appropriate) in ‘An Evening with Lerner and Loewe – Broadway in Live performance.’ Shots by Kevin Parisi.

The experiment led to a string of collaborations between the American Pops Orchestra and PBS. In excess of 14 APO productions have aired on PBS given that the starting of the COVID pandemic. These include a New Year’s Eve broadcast on the garden of Philadelphia’s Structure Hall and Wicked in Live performance, which reunited Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth to focus on the roles that produced them stars. Frazier states Wicked in Concert bought more viewers than any PBS demonstrate other than Downton Abbey.

Following up is the kickoff to a new collaboration: the PBS Broadway in Concert sequence. Episode 1 — at present streaming and airing this weekend (March 5 to 6, 2022) on PBS channels around the region — will characteristic the music of Lerner and Loewe, whose Broadway classics include Camelot, My Honest Woman, and Brigadoon. Theater favorites which includes Jenn Colella (Arrive From Absent), Aisha Jackson (Frozen), and Jose Llana (Rent) will carry out preparations crafted by Frazier and played by the APO.

All through its heritage, the American Pops Orchestra concerts have felt diverse from classic orchestra performances. You are likely to see a selection of big-title performers accompany the team. Everyone from Kelli O’Hara to Wynton Marsalis to Joshua Bell has created appearances. Instead than restrict the orchestra to just one genre of music, Frazier thrives on selection, staging orchestral variations of classical, pop, country, Broadway, spirituals, and much more. “The previous college belief is to do a single thing with orchestras,” Frazier notes. “But how a lot of of us watch only a single sort of clearly show when we are viewing Television? So why would we in the arts planet silo ourselves when we can do so quite a few issues?” Frazier suggests APO audiences are just as faithful and thrilled about the classical pieces as they are about pop, jazz, or Broadway. “Because it is about placing them jointly in a way that helps make sense,” he stresses. “A whole lot of our applications feature lots of varieties of tunes, but I am very cautious how I select it so it will make feeling collectively.” He refers to a new PBS exclusive referred to as Just one Voice: American Roots that mixed Indigenous American new music, spirituals, opera, rap, folks audio, Latin new music, and extra. “I wanted to emphasize that American songs is comprised of lots of traditions and that our art unites us in a frequent upcoming.”

Star of Broadway’s Aladdin, Michael Maliakel, and Broadway star Aisha Jackson in ‘An Night with Lerner and Loewe – Broadway in Concert.’ Photographs by Kevin Parisi.

Frazier himself is a fascinating mix of well-heeled and down-to-earth. He collects antiques and counts some of the nation’s most perfectly-regarded performers (consider Morgan Fairchild, Renée Fleming, or Chita Rivera) as collaborators and personalized buddies. He is also a person of the most approachable men and women you will ever meet up with and is doggedly targeted on reaching people of all backgrounds with his songs. “Unless we engage men and women, get them in the door and let them know that they are valued, how do we ever hope to have foreseeable future audiences? How do we hope to get persons thrilled by tunes?”

Frazier founded the American Pops Orchestra in 2015 when he was just beneath 30 a long time outdated as a group-primarily based nonprofit created to “connect with folks where they are and how they think.” Frazier sees himself as a bridge between the orchestra and the viewers, both of those of which he needs to be as various and joyful as feasible. The orchestra is funded almost solely by unique donors who are, as Frazier describes them, “extremely dedicated.” Frazier usually takes no income for his perform (as an alternative, as Metro Weekly claimed, he earns his residing by means of Nouveau Productions, which he and his husband run), and he is fully commited to functioning APO with prudent fiscal administration and zero credit card debt. Eight decades in and the consequence has been a resounding success. “Our spending budget went up by 50 per cent throughout COVID,” he notes. “And that is with no a single federal or district grant or PPP loan.”

Luke Frazier. Photograph by Elman Studio LLC.

Reaching people today in which they are is a little something of a mantra for Frazier. The orchestra spends portion of each individual yr executing concert events in elementary schools. This hard work in fact blossomed less than COVID many thanks to Zoom: The APO streamed reside concert events to schools in 46 states, most in parts that lack accessibility to stay orchestras. Frazier credits the APO’s substantial donor foundation with enabling the orchestra to provide these concert events at no price tag to educational facilities. “And these are fairly elaborate performances,” he notes, stressing that anyone associated is compensated, from the performers to the scriptwriters, the camera crew, the audio technician, the costume and prop designers. “One of my fondest memories from a recent kids tour is just one minor lady in an elementary university who held a sheet of paper up to the digicam that reported, ‘I appreciate this!’”

Frazier characteristics his philanthropic inclinations to his upbringing in Parkersburg, West Virginia, in which specialist arts groups have been handful of and much amongst. “I discovered so substantially of my connection with people by sitting down in church, outside of ice cream socials, or at county fairs seeing folks answer to new music mainly because the new music was meant for them,” he suggests. “It was classical new music, popular tunes, sacred, bluegrass. My total lifestyle has been about listening and contemplating about what songs is likely to link folks on a extremely particular amount.”

In addition to leading his very own orchestra, Frazier was also just lately named the inaugural principal pops conductor of the Nationwide Philharmonic (which performs in Maryland’s Strathmore Center), and he also retains a musical residency in Palm Beach front, Florida. “I am a human being who laughs at the notion of everyday living/function stability,” Frazier laughs. “My artwork is my daily life and my existence is my artwork.”

In the past yr by yourself, Frazier estimates that he has performed about 500 parts of tunes, each of which he personally crafted with a exceptional arrangement or orchestration. Frazier eschews the cookie-cutter strategy to audio in which a songs director performs the identical display about and about. “Nothing excites me more than sitting down down with the leadership of an organization to question, ‘What will make feeling? What is going to excite you?’ and then pairing that with what excites me. That is how I come across the time, the electrical power, the generate.”

Broadway star Jose Llana, Tony Award-nominated artist Jenn Colella, and Tv set and Broadway star Aaron Lazar in ‘An Night with Lerner and Loewe – Broadway in Live performance.’ Pictures by Kevin Parisi.

This extends to Frazier’s work with PBS. For every single PBS demonstrate that the APO has been involved with, Frazier has hand-picked the location, the performers, the tracks, and the preparations. His determination to fiscal prudence also extends to just about every facet of the manufacturing. Frazier features a trace: seem for the significant antique rug made use of in the generation. “It actually arrives from my home. So when I say we extend the spending budget, we definitely stretch the funds!”

For the Lerner and Loewe concert, Frazier selected to merge the very regular location of DC’s Meridian House (imagine of a basic inside like Mount Vernon or Monticello) with really out-of-the-box casting. “I designed a listing of the major 10 people today you would consider singing Lerner and Loewe tunes and then crossed them all off my listing,” he claims of his casting method. Rather, he introduced with each other a team of talented performers who typically wouldn’t be viewed as to sing these tunes — performers like Appear From Away’s Jenn Colella, who sings “I Could Have Danced All Night,” and Aisha Jackson, the first African American performer to perform Elsa in Broadway’s Frozen, who sings tracks from Camelot. “With this juxtaposition of different voices and individuals in opposition to a incredibly common background, I was expressing that the past is not caught in the past,” Frazier suggests. “It’s a melding of earlier and long term.”

Jackson, for whom Frazier organized a lesser-acknowledged Aretha Franklin edition of “If Ever I Would Depart You,” appreciated owning the independence to make the tune her own. “Luke labored with me to select the finest keys for my voice and get me relaxed with the new arrangements,” she recollects. “His precision, notice to detail, passion, and skill to brilliantly rearrange these traditional music make him the wonderful conductor that he is.”

An Night with Lerner and Loewe: Broadway in Live performance (readily available under) will air on PBS around the country. Verify community PBS listings for correct info. Maryland Community Tv will broadcast Broadway in Live performance: Lerner and Loewe on Saturday, March 5, 2022, at 5:00 PM Sunday, March 6, at 6:30 PM and Saturday, March 12, at 4:00 PM. The display is now streaming for free of charge on PBS.org.


Past American Pops Orchestra performances on PBS are available on Passport, the PBS streaming provider.