Over its 33-year history, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra has translated a diverse spectrum of popular music into the Classical idiom, which is hardly surprising since that's its prime directive. Under the masterful, all-encompassing and ever-present baton of Maestro Erich Kunzel, the Pops became renowned for delightfully unexpected programming. Kunzel’s passing last September will continue to leave a gaping void in the Pops’ most vital position.
So what is the CPO to do when the decision is made to tribute The Beach Boys, a band synonymous with summer and fun? The first imperative is to find a conductor with Kunzel’s delightfully skewed creative vision and relentless pursuit of musical excellence. How hard could that be?
Enter Matt Catingub (pictured), a Jazz pianist/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/arranger who conducted his first big band at age 15 under the tutelage of his mother, Mavis Rivers, the first lady of Polynesian Jazz vocalists and Catingub’s biggest musical influence. His résumé since then sports more bullet points than a third-world armory and his unconventional experience and approach make him a perfect fit for the CPO’s presentation of Endless Summer: The Music of The Beach Boys on Saturday.
“I’ve actually been with the Cincinnati Pops with other artists, conducting for them, but this is the first time I’m doing something on my own,” Catingub says from his current home in Las Vegas. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Catingub’s breadth of experience would be impressive in someone twice his age and is far too extensive to be fully explored in this brief space. He taught himself to play piano at age 7; at 17 he played alto sax at the Monterey Jazz Festival and joined the Louie Bellson Big Band; and at 21 he formed his own big band.
In 1984, Catingub recorded his sophomore album, Hi-Tech Big Band, re-creating a big band sound by playing every instrument himself on separate tracks.
Before he turned 30, Catingub simultaneously accepted the position of music director for vocalists Jack Jones and Toni Tennille. Catingub became the principal conductor for the Honolulu Symphony Pops in 1998, a position he held until the orchestra was bankrupted last year. He takes over as conductor for the New Mexico Symphony’s Principal Pops Conductor this fall.
Catingub credits all of his accomplishments to his multitalented mother, who passed away in 1992.
“I was in the business before I knew what the business was,” Catingub says. “My mother really drove me to become a musician, not in the sense of lessons, but she forced me into the real world quickly; I was onstage with her at 13, playing clarinet. But I think the love of music came because she was in the business and because of the music she did. There was almost no way it could not have happened.”
One of Catingub’s semi-local connections is his longstanding relationship with Rosemary Clooney; he led the band on Clooney’s final three CDs. Through Rosemary, Catingub met George Clooney and wound up scoring and appearing in his 2005 film Good Night and Good Luck, the soundtrack for which won a Grammy.
Performed in cooperation with Jeans ’n Classics, a Canadian-based group of Rock musicians versed in orchestral concerns, Endless Summer offered the kind of challenges tailor-made for Catingub’s skill set.
“I’m certainly familiar with a beach party, if you will,” Catingub says, laughing. “In Honolulu, we do many of our concerts in aloha shirts and beachwear. It’s something that’s right up my alley and I’m a fan of The Beach Boys’ music, so I thought it would be a lot of fun. The stuff I do on my own is kind of fun party stuff, and that’s what I’m known for in my Pops programming.”
Although the Endless Summer program is an established piece, Catingub has creative leeway in its presentation. As such, he’s really anticipating the program and the twists he’ll bring to it.
“When the Beach Boys theme was settled upon, it became, ‘Well, let’s do some fun stuff from the ’60s,’ so I’m doing ‘One Mint Julep’ and things like that,” Catingub says. “I’m even bringing some Hawaiian surprises with me, and I do have a special surprise guest that will be joining me onstage. It will be a lot of fun.
"I love Riverbend and, let’s face it, you guys have one of the finest orchestras in the country, so it’s always a pleasure to join the stage with an orchestra of that caliber. And it will be about as loose as you can get with a symphony orchestra.”
ENDLESS SUMMER: THE MUSIC OF THE BEACH BOYS is presented by the Cincinnati Pops Saturday at Riverbend. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.