Sarah Hicks and the Sequined Vests

Sarah Hicks admitted to a little larceny in the name of art today. Hicks spoke at the press conference announcing she is the Minnesota Orchestra’s Principal Conductor of Pops and Presentations. It’s a job which was created back in 1993 for former Tonight Show band leader Doc Severinsen.

Hicks recalled how shortly after she arrived at the Orchestra in 2006 as an assistant conductor Severinsen asked her to give him a hand. He was going to perform a duet with the Orchestra’s Principal Trumpet Manny Laureano and realized it would be too complicated to play and conduct at the same time. Hicks said she would be happy to oblige.

However just before she and Laureano went on stage they slipped into Severinsen’s dressing room and each selected one of the Doc’s famous sequined vests. Then they walked out into the hall where Severinsen and the audience was waiting.

“Doc was shocked and absolutely delighted,” she said. “And it was such a thrill for me. One of my first concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra was that concert conducting Doc Severinsen. And that moment is imbued with so much more meaning for me today as quite literally the baton has been passed.”

Severinsen retired in 2007, and is now the Orchestra’s Pops Conductor Laureate. However Orchestra President and CEO Michael Henson says he and his staff wanted to take their time before appointing a replacement – in part because they knew they could never actually replace him.

So they decided to look for someone different, someone who could lead the pop series in new directions, and expand the boundaries for new audiences.

“The more that we saw of Sarah Hicks in action over the last couple of years, the more we realized she was made for this role, ” he said. “She has a real passion for popular music and she has the artistic imagination to develop intriguing new programming for this series.”

The Orchestra sees the pops series as critical for the development of audiences, a view Hicks shares.

Music Director Osmo Vanska says he was quite surprised when Hicks told him she wanted the job, as most up and coming conductors want to focus on classical music and as he put it see themselves as the next Bernstein or Karajan. However Vanska says Hicks is the right person at the right time for the job.

Hicks, who was the first woman to get what they call a titled conducter position at MnOrch, says she is very excited about the new gig. In addition to four pops series a year, she’ll continue with the popular Inside the Classics series, and also conduct classical concerts as part of the regular Orchestra program.

She sees her new job as being multi-faceted, and it will be a lot of work. In the next two weeks she’ll be preparing and performing a series of classical and pops concerts, culminating with piano rocker Ben Folds playing with the Orchestra.

“I met Ben about a year and a half ago at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and we hit it off immediately,” Hicks says.” And he said ‘I feel so comfortable with you, can you to conduct me as much as you can?’ And I said yes.”

The concert will include arrangements Folds has done both of his solo work, and with his band the Ben Folds Five.

“It’s a really, really fun show, but with fantastic arrangements for orchestra. So it really is us collaborating together and creating this great show for you,” Hicks says.

Sarah Hicks is excited about the new job, and all it’s possibilities. She and her husband just bought a new house in Minneapolis and are now sorting through boxes. No word however if she’s found any sequined vests.

You can listen to our conversation here:

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