Imagine hearing a live performance of music from your favorite film soundtrack or a beloved Disney cartoon. While many orchestras steer away from such “frivolous” repertoire, the Michigan Pops Orchestra has a mission to offer a well balanced serving of both classical and mainstream works that audiences are sure to recognize.

“Where in the World is Michigan Pops?”
Sunday at 7 p.m.
Michigan Theater
Tickets from $5

“We don’t limit ourselves to standard classical repertoire,” said Pops music director Yaniv Segal, a graduate conducting student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. “We include music of all sorts of genres — including classical, but also film music, popular music, adaptations from Broadway songs, even sometimes we do arrangements of rock songs.”

“Still great music, but a big variety,” he added.

For concertgoers, this means a much-appreciated break from the heavy and dramatic works of orchestral music’s three B’s — Bach, Beethoven and Brahms — and a chance to experience a more eclectic and accessible program.

“I think that because we do such a wide variety, there’s something in it for everybody,” Segal said. “You’re in it for more entertainment than necessarily enlightenment. I think that it can reach a lot of people.”

For this semester’s concert, the Pops board chose an around-the-world theme with pieces representing different nations. The concert’s title — “Where in the World is Pops?” — is a nod to the “Carmen Sandiego” franchise of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

While only a few of program’s pieces are actually authentic works of world music by a native composer, the concert represents a range of styles, including well known Hollywood scores.

“We’re doing music from ‘The Lion King,’ and that fits really well with (the) orchestra,” Segal said. “It makes it sound beautiful, and it’s themes from the movie that people will recognize.”

Other movie excerpts include selections from “Gladiator,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and Disney’s “Mulan.”

The program also features pillars of classical repertoire, such as the overture to Richard Wagner’s opera “The Flying Dutchman.” This orchestral tour-de-force from Wagner’s ghostly fourth opera has personal significance to Maestro Segal.

“It’s actually the first piece I ever conducted with an orchestra,” Segal said. “It was in a rehearsal when I was, I think, 17 years old. This is (my) first time actually doing it in a concert. I love that piece. I think Wagner is an amazing composer, how he writes for the orchestra … and tells a story using the instruments.”

Sunday’s concert also offers a rare chance for classical enthusiasts to hear a piece by contemporary Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, a composition professor in the School of MT&D.

“It’s called ‘Fanfare’ from a suite called China Dreams,” Segal said. “It’s also a great thing for us to (play this piece) because he’s a living composer, he’s in the Michigan community, he writes for orchestra.”

“He’s a superb composer and a superb orchestrator. I think there’s nothing else on the program like that music,” he added.

Pops concerts also give students in the School of MT&D an opportunity to show off their vocal performance skills. Sunday’s concert features a performance of Figaro’s famous aria “Largo al Factorum” from “The Barber of Seville” by baritone graduate student Steven Eddy. Senior Rachel Bahler will perform “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Evita.”

“She’s actually sung with us several times,” Segal said of Bahler. “She’s like a Pops favorite because she’s amazing.”

Segal also stressed that Pops showcases the talents of students who may not otherwise get a chance to perform in an ensemble.

“There’s a hundred people on stage, and the majority of them are non-music majors,” Segal said. “They juggle their own academic work, and some of them are graduate students and nursing students and Ph.Ds and engineers, and yet they all love to come together once or more a week to rehearse for Pops.”

“I think that they really love playing music, and this orchestra gives them a vehicle to have a lot of fun and play exciting music at a high level,” he added. “It’s very rewarding for me to work with them.”

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