first_imgNew Ocean City Pops conductor Vince Lee. (Photo courtesy of Vince Lee) By TIM KELLYVince Lee says he has “one foot fully planted in popular music, the other one fully planted in classical.”Which, among other attributes, makes Lee a great choice to lead the Ocean City Pops Orchestra as its new permanent conductor.The city recently tapped Lee, who has already led the Pops several times as a guest conductor, following a two-year search process.He makes his debut May 9 in a show featuring “America’s Got Talent” reality TV star Jackie EvanchoLee’s hire as permanent maestro seems a great fit for an organization with a history of merging genres, and for a diverse audience of sophisticated aficionados blended with seasonal visitors looking for something to do on a vacation night.Though the Cincinnati, Ohio, native’s knowledge of the Pops is intimate and he’s rapidly becoming familiar with all Ocean City has to offer, it was clearly a case of love at first sight on his first visit to the resort.“I distinctly remember parking the car and walking to the Music Pier, taking everything in,” he said. “The town is beautiful; the people are open and very friendly. Having its own Music Pier is a real advantage. Most places don’t have anything like that.”That first impression, and his first guest-conducting gig in August 2018, for a show titled “The Best of Opera to Broadway,” only reinforced the positive vibes from Lee’s earliest knowledge of the Pops.“One of the first things I did was look at previous seasons’ programs,” he said, “and I was very excited to see such a diverse range of concerts.”Lee was also struck by the history of the orchestra, thought to be the oldest in New Jersey, the Music Pier facility, and the fact that the Pops are one of only a few orchestras in the nation run by a city government.“It’s a very, very unique (organizational structure). Everything about it appealed to me,” he said.The Ocean City Music Pier, home of the Ocean City Pops Orchestra for 90 years.The feeling appears to be mutual.“(Lee’s) talent and credentials as a conductor are unquestionable,” Mayor Jay Gillian said in announcing the appointment.It all began for Lee as a little boy when he began tapping out notes on the family piano.“Every day, when I was being driven to school, we would pass a music store with a sign advertising piano lessons,” Lee recalled.One day prior to turning five years old, his mother asked Vince what he wanted for his birthday.“Without hesitation, I told her that I wanted piano lessons,” he said.That led to a lifetime interest in all genres of music and an interest in conducting. He was chosen to make his conducting debut by leading the world-renowned Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at age 13.Since then, the credits have grown to include conducting stints the world over, including the New York Youth Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Union City Orchestra and, of course, the Philadelphia Orchestra.Ocean City stands out as an orchestra in its own right, Lee says.“The tradition is marvelous. The Pops are an important part of Ocean City history. The fact that this orchestra has been here for 90 years is something special,” he pointed out.Another key aspect: The Pops’ musical holdings, or pieces of music and arrangements for orchestral performances.“The Dallas Symphony, a $40 million organization, has between 500 and 600. Most orchestras have 1,300 holdings or less. Ocean City has 3,000,” Lee explained.Many are “real gems, from the 1940s, arranged for small dance bands,” he said.Lee is in the process of cataloging them and said he would reach out to music publishing giant BMI in the hopes that some of the pieces do not exist anywhere else.In the meantime, Lee incorporated at least one of the old pieces into each of the concerts he has guest-conducted, and he plans to continue doing so moving forward.Vince Lee guest-conducted the Ocean City Pops several times before getting the full-time job. (Photo courtesy Vince Lee)Lee said the 2020 Pops program will soon be released and that fans new and old should look forward to some outstanding performances.“I always like to start with great music,” he said. “That might be subjective, but I try to start with music that is widely accepted as great. If you’re asking an audience to try something new, you want to start out with the very best from that particular genre.”The initial concert with Evancho “is a great way to kick off our season,” he said.“People love her, especially in Ocean City,” he said of the classical-pop crossover star, who is just 19 years old.He also added a special message to non-season ticket holders and people who’ve not yet taken the Ocean City Pops plunge.“If you haven’t been with us, or haven’t been for a while, this is the year to do so,” he said. “We have some outstanding concerts lined up.”last_img read more