Originally Published: February 21, 2017 6 a.m.
Sunday afternoon’s concert of the Prescott POPS! Symphony aimed to please, with the added bonus of a few delightful surprises. Mission accomplished!
POPS! concerts are a bit different than standard orchestral performances in that they focus on the familiar, the recognizable, the tried and true. A POPS! concert might include movie themes or scores, selections from hit Broadway musicals, or the most loved and listenable of the classical repertoire. On this occasion, Prescott POPS! managed all of the above, and snuck in some exciting lesser known works to which no POPS! aficionado could possibly object.
Under the baton of music director and conductor Joseph Place, the concert began with a rousing rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” especially enjoyable in full orchestration.
Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G minor commenced simply with one lone clarinet, gradually adding more woodwinds, then strings, one instrument at a time. As more and more of the orchestra joined in, the piece gained in complexity until the short work ended in an exciting climax.
The orchestra’s trumpet principal Carl Rowe, whose musical background is most impressive, gave a confident, even serene, solo performance in the understated Prayer of St. Gregory by Alan Hovhaness.
The Carmen Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet is POPS! material at its finest. A classical piece, it comprises six very familiar themes that everyone loves, including the Nocturne and its expressive solo violin part played beautifully by concertmaster Bill Cummings. The suite also includes the famous Habanera, with its distinctly Spanish themes, conspicuous tempo changes and frequent presence of bold brass.
To finish off the concert’s first half, the orchestra presented Highlights from “Jurassic Park” by John Williams. As the work’s mood shifts from foreboding to triumphant, and back again, it wouldn’t be Williams without the characteristic “here comes the cavalry” moments that always thrill.
Maestro Place saved the best for the second half. One of the evening’s surprise offerings was an orchestral composition written by high school student Mathew Lanning, who is an accomplished cellist and pianist, as well as aspiring composer and conductor! Lanning’s Scenery No. 1, delivering an exuberant opening theme, made full use of the entire orchestra, start to finish. The piece’s style might lend itself to the score of an adventure movie, not unlike the music of John Williams. The audience was duly impressed!
One of the evening’s highlights was Robert Russell Bennett’s fabulous arrangement of Selections from “Oklahoma” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Everyone adores songs such as “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Oklahoma,” “Many a New Day,” “Kansas City,” “Can’t Say No” and “People Will Say We’re in Love.” All were featured in this glorious tribute to the beloved musical.
Next on the program was decidedly the most wondrous aspect of the entire concert – percussionist and glass instrument specialist Lynn Drye’s solo on the very rare and unusual glass armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin! Drye and her husband Toby arranged the Hymn to the Sea from “Titanic” to feature the very special instrument, which is astonishingly beautiful to look at. Imagine a horizontally oriented, elongated clear glass cone wrapped in shimmering concentric bands of gold. Its sound is hauntingly ethereal, truly otherworldly. As played by Drye, the Hymn was less a concert selection and more an event!
The concert finished off with Alan Sylvestri’s “Back to the Future” Suite, an evocative composite of the popular movie’s themes, arranged by the original score’s composer.
What makes the Prescott POPS! Symphony so special are its accomplished principal players and Maestro Place’s willingness to push the envelope with his varied concert selections, adventurous surprise features, and innate ability to accentuate the dynamic excitement of each piece while ensuring that each instrument of his orchestra is clearly heard. POPS! concerts should be a lot of fun, and this one certainly did not disappoint.
The Prescott POPS! Symphony performs at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center, 1100 E. Sheldon St., Prescott, AZ 86301. Adult (over 18) tickets are $25; youth (18 and under) tickets are $5. Season ticket packages and group discounts are available. For information on next season’s concert schedule, email Info@PrescottSymphony.com. The YCPAC box office can be reached at 928-776-2000.