Pops Goes ... 

Cardboard conductor abducted; ransom demanded.

Shortly after the Elvis birthday pops concert in January, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) marketing department received an ominous anonymous note: "We have Robert. Be very afraid."

But the Robert who had been kidnapped wasn't Robert Moody, one of the three potential pops conductor candidates to succeed Vincent Danner but a cardboard cutout of him.

Cutouts of the three candidates, Moody, Matt Catingub, and Michael Krajewski, had been placed in the lobby of the Cannon Center as part of an ongoing, audience-guided selection process. The Moody cutout, worth about $200, was stolen from a Cannon Center storage room; the other two cutouts remain in the symphony's possession and unharmed.

The symphony has been searching for a new principal pops conductor for more than a year and wants to take the pops series in a new direction.

"Not all orchestras who play pops have that natural talent for making the music bubble in a pops setting, but the MSO can do that, and our audiences sense it," says Jackie Flaum, public relations manager for the symphony. "A good symphony can play Mozart and John Williams [film-score composer for Jaws, the Indiana Jones trilogy, and Superman] with equal skill. How can we do all that? The best way is to find a leader who loves and understands pop music in a symphonic setting."

The MSO charged each candidate to program two concerts. Catingub's background in big band inspired his September performance of "Misbehavin' Nightly with Byron Stripling," in which he featured his own music from the film Good Night, and Good Luck. Moody, meanwhile, wowed audiences with his "Star Wars and More," a tribute to John Williams' cinema scores, in which he tore open his shirt and turned dramatically to reveal that he was the Man of Steel at the climax of the Superman theme.

Krajewski's "Hollywood Spectacular" debuted March 10th and featured music from blockbusters across the decades, including Ben-Hur and Gone With the Wind. His rendition of the "Colonel Bogey March" from The Bridge on the River Kwai even included a segment for audience participation. "I know you'll want to whistle to this," Krajewski said, and proceeded to divide them into "Group 1" and "Group B" to perform their respective parts.

Audience reaction has been positive across the board. "So far, they seem to like the candidates equally well but for different reasons," says Flaum.

However, in a letter from the marketing department to the kidnapper or kidnappers, the symphony cautions that the cutout's disappearance may adversely affect Moody's chances.

"We do not negotiate with terrorists," the letter says, and concludes with the bold affirmation, "WE ARE NOT AFRAID!"

Flaum, however, remains cautious. "We have no leads in the disappearance of the cutout of Robert Moody and no idea who would do such a thing. We have heard nothing from the cutout or the kidnapper since, and we greatly fear for the cutout's safety."

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