In February, the YSO announced Marvin Hamlisch would helm the new series, set to debut in November.
Hamlisch had many other projects in the works. Ellison was the music director for Hamlisch's musical comedy "The Nutty Professor," which debuted a month ago in Nashville, Tenn.
It was the last musical Hamlisch completed before his unexpected death Aug. 6. The loss of the decorated music man was felt from Hollywood to Broadway to York. YSO executive director Ken Wesler and the board had to reassess the pops series.
About 400 customers already purchased tickets to each of the concerts - "Tribute to Gershwin" Nov. 17 and "From Hollywood to Broadway" May 4, 2013 - at the time of Hamlisch's death. Instead of scrapping the shows, the board decided to hire a new conductor. Wesler said Broadway directors and notable personalities were in the mix.
This week, Ellison signed on as conductor. Wesler said he's a talent on par with Hamlisch but lacks the household name recognition.
"The primary guide to this was: Who will deliver the concert at a similar level that Hamlisch would have?" Wesler said.
Ellison's music director credits include "42nd Street," "Spamalot" and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular. He's accompanied stars, including Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep.
"This is a really extraordinary artist," Wesler said. "He has a great connection to the way Marvin (worked). He was comfortable with coming (into the pops series) with the same guest artists."
Wesler said he's confident Ellison will be able to balance YSO rehearsals with his busy schedule. He's slated to be the musical director for new Broadway productions of "Annie" and "Porgy and Bess."
That's another lucky break, Wesler said. George Gershwin wrote the music for "Porgy and Bess," some of which will be part of the "Tribute to Gershwin" pops concert Hamlisch planned.
Wesler expects Ellison's transition into the conductor position will likely include a nod to Hamlisch, who would have held the baton.
"We're going to leave it up to him to say something at the podium," Wesler said.
Update: Ken Wesler said that Todd Ellison is slated to direct the Philly Pops during the 2013-14 season. For details about the Philly Pops, visit www.phillypops.com.
Celebrities, including former President Bill Clinton, attend Hamlish funeral.