In 1974, shortly after Bob Bernhardt graduated from Union College in Schenectady, New York, as an Academic All-American infielder, he had a spring training tryout with the Kansas City Royals. After four days, they tactfully suggested that he pursue his other vocation: music.
Bernhardt laughs about it today, having taken their suggestion and launched an eventful and fulfilling career as an orchestral, opera and pops conductor. It's an occupation that has taken him to concert halls all over North America, including New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall.
It also rewarded him with a 25-year friendship with Boston Pops conductor and renowned film score composer John Williams.
Bernhardt will serve as guest conductor of a Williams tribute with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Friday (Nov. 3) and Sunday (Nov. 5). “Star Wars and Beyond: The Music of John Williams,” will be staged at the Orpheum Theater.
The program will include at least a dozen popular movie themes, including orchestral soundtracks from “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Superman,” “Jurassic Park” and “Harry Potter.”
The selections also include Williams’ arrangement of the score for the film version of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Violinist Xiao Fu, celebrating her 10th season with the LPO, is the featured soloist. Williams’ violin solo arrangement of Jerry Bock’s original score for “Fiddler,” performed by Isaac Stern, won Williams his first Oscar for “Best Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score” in 1971.
The Isidore Newman School Chorus from New Orleans will sing on four of the selections.
Williams, who succeeded Boston Pops founder Arthur Fiedler as principal conductor in 1980, held that position until 1993 and is still active with that orchestra as laureate conductor. Among his catalog of several hundred musical compositions are soundtracks from well-known films and TV shows, and he has won numerous Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Golden Globe awards.
Bernhardt, who has known Williams since 1992 and has guest conducted the Boston Pops frequently, described the 85-year-old maestro as “a genuinely lovely human being, incredibly supportive and brilliant at his art."
“I do these (concerts) as often as I can,” said Bernhardt. “I adore his music so much that I’m always eager to do a tribute to the music and the man. I have such fun at these concerts, talking about the music and about the extraordinary man who has written it.”
Choosing pieces for the Williams tribute is a methodical process. “Because John’s music is so popular, you don’t want to overdo pieces that have been done too often or too recently," Bernhardt said.
Bernardt has been a frequent guest conductor for the LPO since his January 2013 debut in “The Music of Queen.”
“They are a fantastic orchestra." he said. "They do so many things so well, and this is the kind of program that presents great challenges. They are the real stars of this show.”
Noting that his wife, Nora, is a Louisiana native and Newcomb College graduate, Bernhardt said, “We love the chance to come back down to New Orleans and we’re eagerly looking forward to it.”
'Star Wars and Beyond: The Music of John Williams'
Presented by the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra; Robert Bernhardt, guest conductor
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Nov. 3) and 6 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 5)
WHERE: Orpheum Theater
129 Roosevelt Way, New Orleans
INFO: (504) 523-6530; lpomusic.com