Principal POPS Conductor Michael Krajewski is approaching his final Rocky-accompanied entrances onto the Jones Hall stage. Following 17 seasons and hundreds of Houston Symphony concerts, Mike will step down from the position at the end of the 2016-17 season after bringing unparalleled enthusiasm, creative programs, exciting musical arrangements and his wry wit to the Houston Symphony’s BBVA Compass POPS series.
Since joining the Houston Symphony family in 2000, Mike has earned a special place in the hearts of musicians and Symphony patrons alike. Allan and Jean Quiat, longtime POPS series subscribers, are big fans who remember Mike’s first concerts as Principal POPS Conductor. As they recently reflected, “It has been wonderful to experience some of the unique programs Mike has crafted by creatively pulling together artists and genres, like Midtown Men and Cirque de la Symphonie.”
Indeed, Cirque de la Symphonie—the high-flying cirque-meets-orchestra concept—was conceived and brought to life by Mike and Cirque President and Managing Director Alex Stretlsov. In 2005, when the troupe was new on the performing scene, Alex approached Mike in hopes of performing with the orchestra.
Mike led the Cirque artists through the initial challenges of developing the concept, making himself available to suggest ideas and provide advice. “Though Mike was initially skeptical about the idea of artists flying over the heads of an orchestra while they were playing, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He helped us develop the program, and our very first concert as a company was with the Houston Symphony in 2006.” Cirque de la Symphonie has continued performing with orchestras worldwide over the past 11 years.
Together with Houston Symphony artistic staff, Michael Krajewski has developed many other brand-new, highly creative programs throughout his tenure with the orchestra, including UK Rocks, Bond and Beyond, Classic Soul, I Love a Piano and The Sounds of Simon and Garfunkel. Another audience favorite, PaintJam, brought speed-painter Dan Dunn to Jones Hall at the end of the 2014-15 season. Mike led the orchestra as Dunn painted huge canvases live to the sounds of the orchestra. Mike also developed Very Merry Pops, which has been a beloved holiday tradition for the past 16 years.
The Houston Symphony POPS series, soon to be taken over by Principal POPS Conductor Designate Steven Reineke, is now widely respected as one of the foremost Pops programs in the American orchestra landscape. Mike’s energy and innovation have impacted Pops programming across the nation, as many of his original shows have found their way from Houston to other orchestras.
“Mike has always been at the forefront of recognizing that popular Pops programming needs to have a consistently fresh appeal,” Stretlsov said. “His innovations have attracted more and more patrons to the music hall. His willingness to bring Cirque to Houston in 2006 is an example of that.”
Krajewski’s conducting style, described by Pink Martini front-woman Storm Large as “controlled fireworks,” is an essential element of his unforgettable, one-of-a-kind stage presence. Of his love for music, she added, “Mike simply loves music. His exuberance, although understated, is palpable and infectious.”
Whether leading a concert of John Williams’ blockbuster scores or humorously demonstrating the use of the whip during “Sleigh Ride” at Very Merry Pops, there has never been a dull moment in Mike’s 17 years onstage with the Houston Symphony.
And then, of course, there is Mike’s trademark sense of humor, as much a part of his presence as the baton and the score. Many generous patrons share the same sentiment as Houston Symphony Principal Percussionist Brian del Signore, who said he will miss Mike’s easy-going style. “Mike’s legacy,” said Brian, “will be great jokes with great music.”
Successful Houston Symphony marketing and fundraising campaigns, which have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization, have been centered on Mike. Although the Symphony musicians, staff and—most importantly—audiences of Houston will certainly miss Mike’s frequent presence at Jones Hall, his time with the Houston Symphony has made a lasting mark on the city, community and hearts of all who have had the privilege of working with him or hearing one of his concerts.
When asked to share any final words on her memories or experiences with Mike, Storm Large took the words out of everyone else’s mouth: “I just love that guy.”