University Philharmonia Orchestra presents a refreshingly singular repertoire

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 - 5:17pm

The University Philharmonia Orchestra is back at it again, this time with a highly unusual musical repertoire. Tonight, students are prepared to whisk audiences away to a world filled with conflict, charisma and passion.

The repertoire for this concert starts with three movements of Grieg’s "Sigurd Jorsalfar," lively incidental music composed originally for plays. This is followed by Ravel, a composer known for his use of dissonance, who doesn’t disappoint in "Mother Goose Suite," and ends with Sibelius’s dramatic third symphony. These pieces, played in succession, scream contrast.

And contrast is exactly what Oriol Sans, conductor of the UPO, intended to create: “In Grieg we have the most standard use of the orchestra,” said Sans. “Ravel’s sound world is so different.” For Sibelius, the instruments often play in uncharacteristic registers. This, Sans explained, “makes the orchestra seem bigger than it is. He knows how to make it sound powerful.”

Sans is optimistic about the results of this clash. Much like a paint palette, each instrument can be thought of as a different color. The different uses of these same instruments create a singular piece of orchestral music.

“I think it’s interesting for students and the audience to see three different ways of using the orchestral palette,” San added.

Besides the difference in orchestral style, Sans discussed that these pieces aren’t the most popular in the music world. “The Ravel is one of those pieces that, when people hear it, they say, ‘Oh I know this!’” Sans said.  They may not be able to pinpoint the piece, but the melody is often recognizable. The Grieg movements are a common choice for orchestras, and they will most likely have a similar effect on the audience.

The beauty in the repertoire lies in what the audience won’t know: the 29 minute Sibelius symphony.

“No one’s going to recognize it,” Sans said with a laugh. “But they’re going to love it.”

With 86 members and a string section made up largely by freshman, the UPO is full of addicting zeal.

“The UPO has a younger population than the USO and that gives it a special energy.”

Given this, Sans hopes that the audience will leave with a deeper appreciation of the UPO and the talented students that make UPO what it is.

“It’s amazing that students who come to the University of Michigan can put together a performance like this in so little time.”

For this concert, the UPO had only six rehearsals, starting with sight reading and ending with dress rehearsals to prepare. And this high turnover rate is typical for the student orchestra.

“The people that want to end up in those famous orchestras start here,” Sans added.

As Sans talked about the unique pieces that make up this repertoire, my inner classical enthusiast jumped in ecstacy. It’s not common for an orchestra to intentionally choose pieces that aren’t well known. Pieces like Beethoven’s 5th symphony or Tchaikovsky’s "Nutcracker Suite" have been performed so often that they’ve become household tunes. A chance to hear these famous pieces being performed is why many attend classical concerts in the first place. But aren’t the unknown pieces, and the musical surprises they contain, infinitely more enthralling?

The UPO’s repertoire tonight is a breath of fresh air. It’s about time to shake things up a bit in the orchestral world.