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Pittsburgh Symphony to perform at IUP

by JAN SHELLENBARGER on February 12, 2014 10:49 AM

The medical world’s loss is Indiana’s gain when Fawzi Haimor conducts the “Pittsburgh Symphony Pops: A Broadway Valentine” as part of the IUP Lively Arts Series on Friday.

“This program is great,” Haimor said. “It’s so much fun, plus we have two fantastic singers, Hugh Panaro and Christiane Noll, who are amazing.”

Haimor’s path to conducting a symphony orchestra came about as somewhat of a surprise to his parents and himself. The only child of Said, a former United Nations diplomat, and Evelyn, a registered nurse, Haimor began playing the violin at age 4 because his best friend was taking lessons and Haimor jokingly said, “We were practically brothers and I wanted to beat him at it.”

Intent upon becoming a physician while maintaining an interest in music, Haimor earned a bachelor’s degree in music, neurobiology, physiology and behavior, all while playing in an orchestra and doing “a little bit of conducting.”

“Initially I was on the path to go to med school,” Haimor said. “I took all the pre-med courses, applied to several medical schools, took the MCATS and was invited to do some interviews, but music had always been a part of my life. Over a six-month period, every night, I started thinking about switching to music as a career.”

With the decision made, Haimor called his parents and told them, “I want to be a conductor. My dad said, ‘If that’s what you want to do, then we completely support you.’”

“It was amazing,” Haimor said. “If it wasn’t for their support, this wouldn’t have happened.”

With his parents’ blessing, Haimor went on to earn a master’s degree in conducting from the University of California-Davis, then completed a second master’s in instrumental conducting from Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. For the past two years he has been the assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and says he and his wife, Houda, and daughters, Aleena and Layla, are enjoying their new home in western Pennsylvania, and are adjusting to becoming Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

“I’m from the San Francisco Bay area where there are six professional sports teams, including the 49ers, so it’s been a transition,” he said. “I have a Terrible Towel, so I’m working on it.”

For the upcoming Valentine’s Day show, the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops will be joined by Broadway singers Noll and Panaro, and the show is a compilation of what Haimor considers to be music “geared toward love.” The program includes upbeat songs, heart-touching solos and orchestra-only pieces. Selections include the overture from “West Side Story” by the orchestra and individual songs by Noll and Panaro, such as “Top Hat” and “Steppin’ Out with my Baby” from “Easter Parade”; “Think of Me” and “Music of the Night” from “Les Mis←rables”; “Bring Him Home” from “The Phantom of the Opera”; and a “Mamma Mia!” medley.

“I’ve met Christiane and she has a strong background starring on Broadway,” Haimor said. “Hugh has a fantastic reputation and is currently performing as the Phantom on Broadway.”

The selection of which pieces are performed is a collaboration, according to Haimor. “I put in my ideas and of course the singers will offer which songs they’d like to do, and then we get together and it’s a program!”

One of the orchestra-only pieces is “Cavalleria Rusticana.”

“It’s one of the few classical pieces rooted in the Italian repertoire that we wanted to give our audience,” Haimor said. “It was used in the final scene of the last ‘Godfather’ movie. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t watched the movie, but it’s a gorgeous piece of music and just another way of showing the love between two people. We thought it would fit into this show.”

“It’s going to be a really great, fun program,” Haimor said. “I’m sure people will love it.”

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