John Frayne: Urbana Pops concert brings audience to its feet
The concert of the Urbana Pops Orchestra on Saturday night in the Urbana High School Auditorium drew an overflow crowd. The parking lot of the high school was jammed, and by concert time every seat on the ground floor of the auditorium was filled.
The enthusiasm of the audience matched the turnout. Those who manage this orchestra, now in its fourth season, have reason to be proud of the strong level of popular support for this ensemble. Some of the instrumentalists are professional, but the orchestra also serves as a training ground for students, and there were 13 students listed as playing in this concert.
In the first part of the program, Daniel F. Southerland, principal conductor, led the orchestra in a peppy, high-stepping reading of John Philip Sousa's "Washington Post March." The brass dominated the sound in this selection, but the orchestral strings emerged in a luxurious sounding rendition of a lyrical segment from Aaron Copland's suite from his opera "The Tender Land."
The high point of the evening was the dramatic and energetic piano solo played by guest artist Ian Gindes in George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Gindes played with strong phrasing, with sudden releases from the keyboard, and his pauses lent high drama to the unfolding of Gershwin's masterpiece. (Click here for more on Gindes.)
The strings shone in the sweet, lyrical melody at one of the climaxes of the piece, a moment that always grabs me. The Woody Allen character, in his film "Manhattan," is not the only one with a lump in his throat at that melody. The woodwinds, brass, and percussion also did themselves proud under Southerland's firm direction in the "Rhapsody."
The guest concertmaster was Adrienne Barry, who played the violin solo with lovely tone in "Rhapsody in Blue."
After a brilliant finish of the Gershwin work by Gindes and the orchestra, the audience members, with some yelps, leaped to their feet to praise the performers. Gindes then played as an encore Kris Becker's "Passacaglia," a piece that reminded me of the "Moto Perpetuo" form in its insistent ostinato, leading to a limpid conclusion. (Becker plays it on YouTube.) Gindes was awarded his doctorate in piano performance at the University of Illinois in 2011, with Ian Hobson as his main teacher.
The main event of the second part of the concert was the appearance on stage of 38 youngsters who are taking part in the musical "The Music Man" by Meredith Willson, a production of the Urbana Park District Youth Summer Theatre program.
The group as a whole sang with gusto the number "Shipoopi." Later, Natalie Bina, who plays the part of Marion Paroo, sang a heartfelt rendition of "Till There Was You," and this was followed by Andrew Lee, who plays Harold Hill (the title character), energetically singing the hit number "Seventy-Six Trombones."
Associate conductor Stephen L. Larsen adroitly led the brass heavy orchestra in the "Music Man" selections. The show will run from July 25-28 in the Urbana High theater.
At the end of the announced program, Southerland returned to conduct "Armed Forces Salute," during which those who had served in the various armed services, as well as family members thereof, were invited to stand when their service march was played.
Then followed an encore: guess what? Yes, you are right, Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," with much clapping from the audience. Every country seems to have an "unofficial" anthem, and that's ours.
As one might expect from an orchestra that includes many students, there were some flaws in the ensemble, but these were more than made up for by the lively enthusiasm of the playing, guided by the firm baton of Southerland.
Eve Harwood, as emcee, offered instructive and witty introductions to the pieces. Her struggles with the handheld microphone were rewarded after intermission when the infernal gadget finally worked, to lively applause. Even without a microphone, her words were perfectly understandable from where I was sitting.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.