Lawrence Toppman

Charlotte Symphony announces Pops season, assistant conductor

Christopher James Lees has been hired as assistant conductor by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.
Christopher James Lees has been hired as assistant conductor by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Courtesy of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

The performance season may be over, but the Charlotte Symphony hasn’t been idle. The orchestra, which enters its 85th season this fall, has a new assistant conductor – Christopher James Lees, who starts Sept. 1 – and a CSO Pops season that begins Oct. 8 with jazz-pop trumpeter Chris Botti.

Except perhaps for the Grammy-winning Botti, this Pops season doesn’t rely on the headline-grabbing but coffer-draining stars who have come in the past. (Randy Newman and Bernadette Peters were on last season’s roster.)

Season tickets to the Pops series cost $210-$441 for six concerts or $256-$528 for eight. You can get details at 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.

Lees will conduct “Star Wars: The Music” in January. Otherwise, veteran pops maestro Albert-George Schramm will lead all those concerts. After Botti opens Oct. 8 in Belk Theater, the lineup looks like this.

“Patriotic Pops,” Nov. 11-12, Knight Theater: This Veterans Day tribute will merge music and pictures.

“Magic of Christmas,” Dec. 9-11, Belk: Carols, dance, guest artists and probably singalongs.

“Star Wars: The Music,” Jan. 13-14, Knight: John Williams’ themes get an airing for the 40th anniversary of “A New Hope.”

“The Second City Guide to the Symphony,” Feb. 4, Belk: This blend of sketch comedy and music includes original orchestral songs plus works by masters such as Mozart and Mahler.

“Classical Mystery Tour,” March 18, Belk: This Beatles tribute celebrates (among other things) the 50th anniversary of the album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Storm Large, March 31-April 1, Knight: The vocalist from Pink Martini dips into the Great American Songbook for a concert titled “Crazy Arc of Love.”

“Pixar in Concert,” May 6, Belk: This show combines clips from all 14 Pixar features with music from their scores, seven of which have been nominated for Oscars.

Children may be likely to discover Lees before adults do. He’ll conduct all three Saturday morning Lollipops Concerts for kids, Charlotte Ballet performances of “The Nutcracker” and the annual Debbie Phillips Education Concerts for middle-school students.

He comes to Charlotte from UNC School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where he will remain associate professor of conducting and music director of the UNCSA Symphony.

After two summers of study with Robert Spano at the Aspen Music Festival, he won both the 2011 James Conlon Conducting Prize and the 2012 Aspen Conducting Prize. He returned for a third summer in 2013 as assistant conductor for the Aspen Music Festival and School. He received a Gustavo Dudamel Conducting Fellowship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and made his debut with that orchestra in April 2013.

The Washington, D.C., native has commissioned many new contemporary works and collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning composers such as John Adams, William Bolcom, Joseph Schwantner and Jennifer Higdon.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

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