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Film scores to meet classics in 'Pops Takes Flight'

By Jonathan Odden, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 16, 2012

The University of Michigan Pops Orchestra, the oldest collegiate pops orchestra in the United States and the only fully student-run orchestra on campus, returns this fall right where it left off last spring — blending the classical canon with pop classics and film scores, all with a dash of humor and a passion for music.

The orchestra’s upcoming fall concert, “Pops Takes Flight” — to be performed at the Michigan Theater on Sunday — is exactly what it sounds like: a tribute to everything light, airy and upbeat about air travel and flying.

“Flight is a really good theme for this concert for many reasons,” said Jennifer Wei, an LSA senior and external publicity coordinator for the orchestra. “We really wanted to capture, first-off, the thrill of flight. It’s so exciting, and I think orchestral music really captures that mix of excitement and anxiety, but we also thought that music about flight was so airy — pun intended — and that it would fit well with the winter cold approaching.”

Picking through the numerous options was difficult, Wei said.

“How do you choose which pieces speak more of less to the theme?” Wei said. “The philosophy of Pops is that we’re trying to bring a concert that everyone can enjoy. We’re really happy with the pieces we’re playing because they do that and the interactive ways in which we’re playing them do, too.”

For the classical connoisseur, the orchestra will be playing three iconic pieces from the classical canon that makes the concert’s theme soar: Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture, Holst’s Jupiter and Stravinsky’s The Firebird.

“Take the Stravinsky piece for example,” Wei said. “It’s rushing and crashing, with a lot of energy. The classical pieces we’re playing really connect with out idea of flight and they’re also really memorable and known works. They’re pieces that the audience has heard and in the context of the concert, they really shine.”

Though the concert features these famous classical works, the members of Pops know their audience is also there for popular scores, and their fall concert does not disappoint, explained Wei.

“A big focus of the concert is movie scores,” Wei said. “Movie scores really tie the audience into the imagery of the music and there are so many movie themes that are all about flight.”

Among the more contemporary scores the orchestra will be playing are selections from “Up,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and Peter Pan’s theme from “Hook.”

“These pieces go from light and airy moments to bombastic sweeps,” Wei said. “The audience will really feel they’re soaring around in the clouds during these pieces and its so much fun.”

A unique point of the concert will be their rendition of “Defying Gravity” from the musical “Wicked.” Rather than an ordinary pit orchestra arrangement, the Pops will play a full orchestra rendition of the piece, accompanied by vocals.

“The rendition we’re doing is fantastic and we can’t wait to show it off,” Wei said. “It’ll give Broadway a run for its money.”

But the music is only part of the Pops’ concerts. They’re also known for their creative skits and films that break up the music and bring the audience into the show.

“Not to give too much away, but this is probably our most ambitious concert yet,” Wei said. “Let me just say that there are more costumes, jokes and even Nerf guns this year. We just want to make the concert fun for every member of the audience in some way, and I think we do.”


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