The 10th annual Urbana Pops Summer Concert on June 8 was a festive occasion. Held in the auditorium of Urbana High School, the event, which involved many people aside from the Urbana Pops Orchestra (UPO), opened up with a welcome address by Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin.
In the program, "Mayor" was misprinted as "Major," and this gave Marlin the chance at some good jokes before singing the praises of Urbana and the UPO.
The emcee of the evening was Emerita Professor (from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Music) Eve Harwood, who delivered information and witty comments, using an onstage microphone.
Lastly, the capacity audience included many more families with young children than I am used to seeing at a Krannert Center event.
The music portion of the evening began with a high-decibel-level performance of Aaron Copland's classic "Fanfare for the Common Man." We already have a national anthem, but if we ever needed a "national fanfare," this would be it. The UPO, ably led by its conductor, Stephen L. Larson, was augmented by a group called Transit Brass, which returned to the stage later in the concert.
The major portion of the evening was given over to the playing by three prize-winning young musicians of the opening movements of concertos by Wolfgang Mozart, Dimitri Shostakovich and Ludwig van Beethoven.
The third-place winner of the 2019 Chambana Competition Concerto Division was 10-year-old D.J. Wang, and it seemed appropriate that he should be soloist in music by Mozart, the composer who was the most famous child prodigy of whom we have any record. In the first movement of Mozart's Concerto No. 23, Wang played with admirably clear phrasing and demonstrated a lively control of the keyboard in the cadenza of this portion of the concerto.
The second-place winner of the Chambana Competiton was 16-year-old Samuel Larsen, who is a junior at Urbana High, so Larsen was playing on his home turf. Larsen played the opening movement of Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2, written for the composer's son Maxim's 19th birthday. In this lively, satiric music, Larsen played with impressive velocity, and he achieved stirring give and take with the UPO musicians, led with much energy by conductor Larson.
Lastly, first-place winner Jacob Hankin, a 10th-grader at Urbana High, vividly mastered Beethoven's stormy piano writing in the opening movement of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. Hankin exhibited fine technical control, and his left-hand chords were especially impressive.
In my opinion, the players of the UPO were shown to best advantage in their vigorous accompaniment in the Shostakovich Concerto movement. Each pianist received strong applause from the audience.
A lighter touch was then supplied by selections from Stephen Sondheim's cult musical "Into the Woods." These samples from the musical acted as a preview of Urbana Park District's annual Youth Summer Theatre Performance, to be given at the Parkland College Theatre from July 25 to July 28.
Two young members of the cast sang, with youthful charm, the duet "It Takes Two," from the show, and then, to my surprise, the entire two front rows of the audience, all children from the production, rose and sang with beguiling gusto one of the choruses from "Into the Woods." Conductor Larson provided piano accompaniment to these pieces.
Then came the chance for the ensemble Transit Brass to have the spotlight. Three short pieces by members of Transit Brass displayed the impressive ensemble discipline and virtuosity of this group.
The pieces were "Soundscapes" by Austin Seybert, "Yellowhammer" by Ben Carrasquillo (the Yellowhammer is the state bird of Alabama, Carrasquillo's home turf) and lastly, "To the Stars" by Robert Sears, who said it was inspired by NASA's decade-long voyage to Pluto.
The last item on the program featured the UPO's and Transit Brass' playing of Morten Lauridsen's solemn and moving "O Magnum Mysterium" ("O Great Mystery"). In response to strong applause from the audience, conductor Larson led, as encore, everybody on stage in a high-stepping rendition of John Philip Sousa's "Washington Post March."
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at email@example.com.