John Frayne: Early sounds of summer
Harpist Ann McLaughlin gave a highly enjoyable doctoral recital in Smith Hall last Thursday evening. This concert was the opening event of this year's Illinois Summer Harp Class, and it served as a showcase for the varied effects which can be drawn from the harp — especially in the duet with other instruments. McLaughlin demonstrated her mastery of the harp throughout, also displaying her ease in collaboration with other instrumentalists.
The evening began with Camille Saint-Saens' "Fantasy," a 1907 work from the composer's 72nd year. McLaughlin was joined by UI student violinist Daniel Colbert, and this duo beautifully projected the alluring, long line melodies of the piece.
Later, McLaughlin was joined by Illini student flutist Melody Chua in a more recent piece — Charles Rochester Young's "The Song of the Lark" — inspired by Jules Breton's famous 1884 painting of the same name.
The second movement, "Flight," drew brilliant playing from the duo, with McLaughlin producing unusual percussive sounds from her harp. Colbert returned to pair his rich, glowing violin tone with McLaughlin's plangent harp in Astor Piazzolla's "History of the Tango."
This piece spun a merry-go-round of changing tango styles, from erotic rhythms in "Bordel 1900" to the classical sounding complexities of the fourth movement, "Concert of Today."
I will admit that some of the music along the way did not evoke the usual images of passionate tango dancing.
In the concert's final two numbers, McLaughlin was joined by her frequent concert collaborator, harpist Molly O'Rourke. In Caroline Lizotte's Indian-sounding "Raga" from the year 2006 and Bernard Andrs 1977 piece "Parvis," a kaleidoscope of unusual sounds were produced by rubbing on the harp frame, slapping the strings, knocking the harp's sounding board and, in "Raga," twinklings from an ankle bells bracelet worn by McLaughlin.
This high-spirited duo, called "Ginger and Spice," ended an exciting evening with the highly kinetic finale of Andres "Parvis."
On Saturday, the Urbana Pops Orchestra, mainly conducted by music director Daniel F. Southerland, gave the first of its two summer concerts.
Upon arrival in the Urbana High School auditorium, we were serenaded at the ticket counter by the vibrant, youthful sounds of the Bow-Dacious String Band, led by Robin Kearton. A little later, these young string players offered melodious playing from the lip of the auditorium's stage.
Most of the music played by the Urbana Pops Orchestra was written for films such as "Jurassic Park," "Lord of the Rings" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." In other words, the music surged with strong and heroic emotion, with many cliff-hanging action sequences.
The orchestra, ably led by Southerland, played with youthful gusto; 20 percent of the players are student musicians.
As befits a concert of film music, the master of ceremonies was film composer Andrew Edwards, who teaches film music composition at Columbia College in Chicago.
His witty and knowing commentary livened up the proceedings, and an award-winning work was played from a composition competition Edwards had previously judged.
Ably conducted by associate conductor Steven Larsen, Noah Scott Larson's "Dawn in the Warm Wyalusing Spring" offered a lush symphonic soundscape of nature's beauty, with vivid passages mimicking bird song.
The guest artist of the evening was baritone Tim Schmidt. A graduate of the University of Illinois School of Music, Schmidt sang "If I Can't Love Her," from "Beauty and the Beast" and two songs from Claude—Michel Schnberg's "Les Misrables" with powerful, yet mellow, tones, Schmidt's very moving performance of "Bring Him Home" preceded an uplifting rendition of "Stars."
John Williams' film music stood out throughout the concert, but Michael Kamen's bright and peppy "Theme from 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves'" rounded out the evening.
One of the highlights of the evening was the Bow-Dacious group joining with the orchestra in a stirring performance of Duke Ellington's "Caravan."
The Urbana Pops Orchestra will next play on July 5 at 7 p.m., a free concert with the July 4-inspired title "Made in the USA." It will take place in the Urbana High School auditorium.
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 email@example.com.