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Torrance Pops Orchestra springs to life

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Torrance Pops conductor Joanna Nachef and pianist/composer Georges Tomb. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Making a melodious splash
The Torrance Pops Orchestra makes its debut on Friday
by Bondo Wyszpolski
Local residents still lament the demise of the Torrance Symphony, under the baton of Frank Fetta, which performed for many years at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance. At last there’s a replacement, of sorts. On Friday, the Torrance Pops Orchestra makes its debut in a concert that could be a harbinger of finer things to come. It’s being conducted by the ubiquitous and energetic Joanna Medawar Nachef.
“The people who run the Torrance Performing Arts Consortium felt there was a need to bring back the instrumental part of the music in the South Bay, but specifically Torrance,” Nachef says. “They approached me to begin the series called Torrance Pops, and with that to bring different levels and styles of music.”
Torrance Pops, as its name might indicate, doesn’t just present classical music.
“We started off the year with the Joanna Medawar Nachef Singers, and we called it ‘Joanna Goes Pop.’” That concert, which took place last September, featured songs by such artists as Prince, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson. The program began with a rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sung by the entire ensemble and featuring soloist Samuel Tejada.

Pianist Beth Nam. Photo courtesy Joanna Nachef

Soprano Hila Plitmann. Photo courtesy Joanna Nachef

“Then we did ‘Torrance Goes Jazz’,” Nachef continues, “and we invited David Benoit.” A noted jazz artist, composer, and deejay, Benoit needs little introduction. In fact, Benoit and the Asia America Youth Symphony perform May 5 in the James Armstrong Theatre, and Benoit will debut his new composition, “The Great Wall,” inspired by his travels in China.
“After this,” Nachef says, “we decided it would be ideal to bring back the symphony, but this time have a pop orchestra where the themes would [focus] on the lighter, classical journey from Broadway to movie themes, so we can attract families of all ages and people will feel that it is not too highbrow, but like the Boston Pops or the Glendale Pops.”
As the newly-appointed artistic director and conductor, Nachef is fully away that “It’s always helpful to have headliners, and headliners who have significant recognition or have had a very worthwhile career. So I decided to invite Hila Plitmann.”
Plitmann, an operatic soprano, is a 2009 Grammy Award-winning vocalist who was featured on “Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.” She’ll be singing George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as well as Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell’s “Georgia On My Mind.” Furthermore, Plitmann is to perform the theme song from Ennio Morricone’s score for “Cinema Paradiso,” to which words have been added. “That should be a fun presentation,” Nachef says.
Pianist Beth Nam, who received her master’s degree and doctorate from Juilliard, was a student of Nachef’s many years ago at El Camino College. “She’s back now, living in this area and concertizing and teaching. She’s going to end the concert with ‘Rhapsody In Blue.’ Who doesn’t love that Gershwin piece?”
The concert begins with the Overture to Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide,” and because Nachef’s concertmaster is “a fabulous violinist, we’re going to do ‘Schindler’s List.’”

Joanna Nachef and Georges Tomb before their concert in Lebanon, January 2019. Photo courtesy of Joanna Nachef

A composer to watch
“Then I’m bringing back Georges Tomb,” Nachef announces. “Georges is the young Lebanese composer, 26-years-old, who’s really established a bit more of a global reputation with his compositions being performed by orchestras in Europe. I was with him in January in Lebanon with the Lebanese Philharmonic, and we did a concert of his music. Last year he was here and he also participated with the Joanna Medawar Nachef Singers.”
One of the works he’ll be performing is his own classical variation of the French nursery rhyme, “Frère Jacques.”
Tomb, who is sitting close by, then regales me with some of this many accomplishments since we met last year. He’s been crisscrossing Europe, and last December his music was performed by the Orchestra Filarmonica Italiana in the Basilica Di San Marco Milano. Conductor Francesco Attardi of the San Remo Symphony Orchestra wrote that Tomb was becoming the next Morricone, a compliment that Tomb takes to heart since Morricone is among his musical heroes. Tomb has also been commissioned to write music for the ballet “Pinocchio,” to be presented in December at the Opera di Lecce, and danced by the Balletto del Sud.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. During his brief stay in Los Angeles, Tomb will be meeting with various people about possibly composing scores for television or movies. Without a doubt, there’s quite a future in store for this young man.
Nachef is concluding the current series, but she’s already planned her upcoming season, which kicks off on Sept. 13 with “Joanna Goes Motown,” followed by “Torrance Goes Jazz” on Jan. 19, 2020, with jazz vocalist and musician Steve Tyrell. A year from now, on April 19, 2020, we’ll again have the Torrance Pops Orchestra.
It’s nice to have something to look forward to, isn’t it? In the meantime…
The Torrance Pops Orchestra, conducted by Joanna Medawar Nachef and featuring singer Hila Plitmann, pianist Beth Nam, and pianist/composer Georges Tomb, makes its debut appearance at 8 p.m. on Friday in the James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance. Tickets, $25 general, and $15 students, children. (310) 781-7171 or go to ER

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