By Laura Latzko
László Veres is considered a rock star.
After 26 seasons as the Tucson Pops Orchestra conductor, Veres will step down following the spring season.
The Tucson Pops Orchestra’s Music Under the Stars Spring Season runs from Sunday, May 8, to Sunday, June 12, at the Georges DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center in Reid Park.
“He’s an amazing man,” says Frances Bettinger, the orchestra’s executive director.
“It has been such a privilege to be associated with him.”
Khris Dodge, an educator and musician who has worked in the Tucson arts community for 30 years, will take over maestro duties in the fall.
During Veres’ tenure, he added professional musicians to the Tucson Pops, which is made up almost entirely of Tucson Symphony Orchestra musicians.
“The orchestra is so much better, and I don’t mean that as a negative to anyone prior to him,” Bettinger says.
“He has built the orchestra. They are much more a professional level. He has done an amazing job of putting together these programs that people just really love.”
Veres has a strong rapport with his audiences. Before each concert, he distributes programs and chats with attendees.
“I love my audience, and I appreciate that they come out to hear us. I like to get them involved,” Veres says.
“Every so often, I make them sing, whistle or dance. Maybe we do the macarena together. Also, before we play a bigger piece, I usually tell them what to listen for, and they enjoy that. Because I’ve been doing it for so many years, these young people grew up with me. Now, they have a family of their own.”
Veres has had plenty of fond memories during his tenure with the orchestra. Among them is when he proposed to his wife, Frances, a violinist in the orchestra, while he was on the podium.
“Her answer was, ‘Why not?’ Veres says.
Veres’ biggest challenge as a conductor is the weather — humidity, wind, rain, heat and bugs. Battling the elements is worth the joy of bringing music to others.
“My white coat is sometimes black by intermission because of all of the bugs,” Veres says.
“It makes us happy to see the audience with smiles on their face. You can see it in their eyes that they are enjoying it. We did our job. Music is very special.”
Hailing from Hungary, Veres was the principal clarinetist with the Tucson Symphony for 16 years. A 30-year teacher, Veres is the founding conductor of Arizona Symphonic Winds. He’ll continue to work with it.
Veres says it was a hard decision, but felt it was the right time to step down from the pops orchestra.
“I’m leaving behind these incredible musicians,” Veres says.
“I was able to make wonderful music with them throughout the years…And I of course will miss the audience reaction.”
Music Under the Stars concerts are casual, and the orchestra invites the audience to arrive eat to chat and eat with others. Food trucks provide meals for a charge.
“In the audience, people bring their lawn chairs or blankets,” Veres says.
“They set up for the day with their picnic baskets. They are visiting with friends, having a good time.”
The orchestra plays a variety of genres, including classical, Broadway and film scores. Listeners are often exposed to new styles of music.
“There’s something about listening to music live and seeing the musicians play it that makes it that much more personal,” Bettinger says.
2022 spring season
During the 2022 spring season, the orchestra will have world premieres, guest conductors and guest artists and groups.
The May 8 Mother’s Day concert will feature junior mariachi band Mariachi Aztlán from Pueblo High School and guest conductor Mark Wolfram. Wolfram will conduct “March Lászlo,” a piece he wrote for Veres.
The program will also include Veres’ arrangement of “My Yiddishe Momme,” which honors his mother’s memory.
Catalina High School junior Tyler Kebo will play marimba in “Concerto No. 2” on May 15.
The orchestra will premiere “Lászlo Scherzo Op. 60,” a piece written by local composer Bob Atwell, on May 22.
Concertmaster Michael Fan, a 30-year pops orchestra violin player, will be featured on May 22 during “Meditation” from the opera “Thais.”
The orchestra will also spotlight trumpet player Jason Carder, who has worked with Yanni, in “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby” the same night.
During the pre-Memorial Day concert on May 29, the orchestra will play “The Armed Forces Salute.”
Fan says the musicians were excited to return during the fall season and are looking forward to the spring season.
“Playing with people, listening, reacting and being together, that’s a huge part of playing music. We were missing it,” Fan says.
Usually donning dark trousers, a white dinner jacket and red bowtie, Veres will wear a special uniform inspired by John Philip Sousa on May 29.
“Because I served in the Army, I put it on on this special occasion of Memorial Day,” Veres said.
Armen Dirtadian, a performer who has worked with the Gaslight Theatre, Invisible Theatre, Southern Arizona Light Opera Company and Arizona Theatre Company, will make a special appearance with the orchestra on June 5.
The spring season wraps up on June 12 with a premiere of Peter Fine’s piece “Rainstorm” from “The Journey,” which he will guest conduct.
During the piece “Best Broadway Marches,” young conductors will take the podium.
The season will conclude with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” during which audience members play drums to mimic canons.
Veres traditionally ends all concerts with “America the Beautiful.”
“I’m not from this country, and I fell in love with this country. I have to play something patriotic for that,” Veres says. “When we perform it, I really mean it. I really put my heart into it.”
Tucson Pops Orchestra’s
Music Under the Stars
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday, May 8 to Sunday, June 12.
WHERE: Georges DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center, Reid Park, 800 S. Concert Place
COST: Free admission