REVIEW: Life on Planet Pops

On December 6, 2023, at the Michigan Theater, the Michigan Pops Orchestra presented “Life on Planet Pops.” I’ve been to every Pops concert since my freshman year, and I was especially excited for this one after seeing this semester’s poster that teased The Lion KingStar Wars (which they somehow manage to play every year), Princess and the Frog, and more. As the theme and poster suggest, all of the music they chose was related to animals, though there surprisingly wasn’t much classical repertoire. However, it was my favorite program out of all of the Pops concerts I’ve seen.

They opened with a medley of Beauty and the Beast and they sounded exactly like the soundtrack of it on Spotify. I loved the concertmaster’s solo so much it gave me goosebumps, and once the melody of Tale as Old as Time played, the strings all together really shined. The song they chose from Princess and the Frog was “Almost There” with a guest student singer from SMTD, and she was very talented. I loved how she opened with dialogue that transitioned into song and that she maintained her character’s cheerful flare throughout the performance.

After a brief intermission, they returned with Hoe Down, a piece with a fun syncopated tune. I’ve heard other orchestras play it before, but I loved that Pops included a good “Yeehaw” in the middle. To end the night, they played the William Tell Overture. I feel like it’s a piece everyone knows. Though I didn’t recognize the title, I immediately recognized the tunes, especially the latter half. 

As always, Pops includes movies to play alongside their music. This semester, they chose to film Pokémon and Jaws, and the way the actors portrayed the animals was hilarious. Pikachu was taller than Ash, his trainer, and the shark in Jaws crawled out of the fountain by the Michigan League. 

I highly recommend going to the Michigan Pops Orchestra concerts. They’re always amazing and enjoyable for people who aren’t well-versed in classical music and I always have a lot of fun at their events!

REVIEW: University Symphony Orchestra Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5

On Tuesday, December 5th, the University Symphony Orchestra played one of my favorite classical works of all time: Symphony No. 5, op. 47, D Minor (1937) by Dmitri Shostakovich. It’s an eerily beautiful, somber, yet exciting piece. I played this in high school, so it was interesting to be on the other side and listen to the interpretation of another conductor: Kenneth Kiesler.

The orchestra started very slow in the beginning, almost lethargic, which surprised me. It’s usually played quicker to emphasize how striking the opening notes are, but I feel like this version brought out the first violin’s melody much better as it gradually crawls into higher pitches. Once the tempo picked up, however, there was a sense of anxiety and tension in the music that is often present in Shostakovich’s other compositions. The contrast between the pianissimo and fortissimo sections created a similar effect that made everything much more dramatic and catching.

My favorite movement is the third movement, the Largo. It features a lot of wind solos that are all variations of a bittersweet melody, but the different instruments all create new textures. This same theme transfers to the strings that play much more dramatically loud and fast in comparison. The constant flip-flopping between solos and soli (when a section has a solo together) is so good at creating different expressions of anger and sadness. I especially like the harp and harpsichord’s arpeggios at the end of the movement right before the orchestra as a whole comes to a stop.

Afterward, the fourth movement, the Allegro non-Troppo, begins fierce with trills and loud beats of the timpani. This movement seemed much more symphonic to me than the others because of how much more interwoven the parts are and how the notes build off and layer amongst sections. This is especially the case once the key transitions from minor to major chords, which is what composers often do to end on a triumphant note.

I’m always looking for more opportunities to listen to my favorite pieces. I’m so happy I got to hear this symphony live again, and the USO gave an amazing performance of it.

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah is undoubtedly one of the most well-known choral repertoires, and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra and UMS Choral Union’s performance of it was very lovely. As Handel’s Messiah is a Christmas tradition, there was a bed of red and white flowers circling the stage that was a nice visual addition. It was packed with a large choir accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, which also had a harpsichord and organ.

I enjoyed listening to the harpsichord because it added a playful quality to the music. The harpsichord is the predecessor to the piano but has a string-like quality, so the sound stood out amongst the rest of the instruments. When the organ played it took me aback because of how loud it was, but I loved the heavier atmosphere it layered onto the orchestra. The strings did a really good job recreating the baroque sound, which is much more airy and uses trills to emphasize notes whereas romantic music uses lots of vibrato.

When Hallelujah played, the audience all stood up to sing along, and the singers around me were very talented, perfectly blending in with the choir on stage. My favorite part, though, was the 48th Air which featured a trumpet solo that traded off with the choir soloist. I don’t think I’ve heard a trumpet solo that was unaccompanied before. The trumpet had a very clear bell-like sound that traveled well through the large hall. I was also a big fan of the ending of the Messiah; it immediately captured my attention with the organ’s entrance and had a wonderful buildup that demanded the audience’s attention.

I’m not religious and wanted to attend this event purely for the music. I do think it’s more targeted towards vocalists than instrumentalists, but it was still fun to see a different side of the strings that had that baroque quality since many baroque pieces played now have adapted a more romantic style. It was a super long concert: almost 3 hours long, so I don’t think I’d attend another playing of Handel’s Messiah. However, I’m really glad I had the opportunity to see it live once.

REVIEW: Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra’s Music from Video Games

On Saturday, November 17th at the Michigan Theater, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra held a concert called Music from Video Games, which was the opening night of their 2023-2024 Pops season of performances. They played various arrangements and medleys of the original soundtracks of Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Halo: Reach, and more. I love playing video games and I’ve always enjoyed concerts more when I was familiar with the music, but even for the music from games I haven’t played before like Metroid or Mega Man, I still had a good time. 

In addition to having music unique to each specific game, video game franchises such as Pokémon, Mario, Zelda, etc. all have iconic tunes for various occasions: healing, leveling up, losing a life, opening a chest, and many more. It’s similar to how McDonald’s has their famous jingle “I’m Lovin’ It”. The music is a core part of the game; listening to it is enough to embody the experience of playing it. The arrangements and medleys created a fun blend of familiarity and anticipation that made it super exciting whenever my favorite melodies came up.

The best part of the night for me was the concertmaster’s solo which was a bittersweet rendition of The Legend of Zelda’s main theme. The entire medley included OSTs from some throwback games like Spirit Tracks (2009) to the more recent Breath of the Wild (2017). It took me a bit to even realize the music was from Spirit Tracks until I heard the percussion using instruments to replicate the sounds of a train traveling on railroad tracks. My only wish is that there was a bigger feature of Zelda’s theme, perhaps with another violin solo or even better, a harp solo.

Music truly has such a big impact on the gaming experience and is actually something I listen to in my free time. For people who don’t have much experience with video games, it may seem bizarre, but I highly recommend listening to some tunes from Zelda as a start. It was genuinely a great event and I’d love to come back again next year.

 

REVIEW: Celebrasia

On Sunday night, November 5th, the Chinese Student Association (@csaumich) collaborated with 24 other organizations to host its most popular event: Celebrasia. Each year it takes place in Angell Hall Auditorium A, making Mason Hall so crowded it’s hard to walk through and meet up with friends.

The performances were scheduled to begin at 7 PM, but like in the past, the seats were already half filled when the doors opened at 6:30 PM. By 6:50 PM, people began to sit in the aisleways and soon after, they closed the doors to the public. This year, CSA did a really good job of organizing the event; they guided the audience well, had quick transitions between performers, and there weren’t any sound issues.

There were a total of 12 groups, some familiar and new. In order they were:

Seoul Juice (@seouljuice.umich)the band under the Korean American Student Association (KASA). In my freshman year, they were a very small group, so it’s great to see how much they’ve grown not only musically but in popularity.

Annappella (@annappella.a_cappella), a co-ed Chinese acapella group. It’s the first time I’ve heard of them and they’re also the first acapella group I’ve seen on campus. They were really good at harmonizing and the male student in the center sang a majority of the melody with a soulful yet gentle voice.

Revolution (@revolutionyoyo): the Chinese Yoyo team. I always love how hype the crowd gets when watching them do tricks and flips.

Flowdom (@flowdom.umich): a co-ed hip-hop dance team. They added more flare to the selection of dance performances and I was really impressed by their charisma.

K-Motion (@kmotion): an all-female K-pop dance group. As always, they served an amazing assortment of K-pop songs with talent as well as their iconic confetti.

Blue Records (@blue_records_group): a student organized record label that arranges and produces their own music, although they did a cover at Celebrasia. The guitarists in particular stood out to me because they sounded just like the studio track.

Konnect (@konnect_umich): the largest and most inclusive co-ed K-pop dance group on campus. The amount of performers and rotations they had were astounding.

Sanya Bhati (@sanya_bhatia): a student soloist pursuing Drama in the Residential College. Her set was definitely one of my favorites. She had a charming presence and commanded the stage with only a backtrack accompanying her powerful and clear vocals.

Female Gayo (@femalegayo): the all-female K-pop dance group under KASA. In addition to their coordinating outfits,  their synchronization as a team is out of this world. From the timing of bold hair flips to the subtle flex of their fingers, nothing felt out of place when viewing them as a group.

VeryUs (@veryus.umich): an all-female dance crew that aspires to highlight multiple cultures in Asia. I appreciate that they focus on diversity and inclusion of not only cultures but music and dance.

rXn (@rxn_umich): the traditional and modern hip-hop co-ed dance group under CSA.

DB3 (@db3_umich): the all-male K-Pop dance group as well as the crowd favorite. The cheering never stopped during their entire set, which was a fun way to end the night.

The University of Michigan has so many gifted students outside of SMTD too, and I can’t do all of them justice with this review. I highly recommend attending Celebrasia in the future, even if it’s just for part of it! It’s a free event and a great way to meet more of the community.

REVIEW: DakhaBrakha

7:30pm • Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 • Hill Auditorium

Seeing DakhaBrakha last Friday night at Hill Auditorium was a unique musical experience. DakhaBrakha is a Ukrainian folk-punk quartet composed of artists Marko Galanevych, Olena Tsybulska, Iryna Kovalenko, Nina Garenetska, that blends genres and sounds to create a musical signature which the band refers to as “ethno-chaos.” Their work derives from and pays tribute to Ukrainian folk music while existing in its own space of reinvention and joyful experimentation. Friday’s performance was dedicated to the bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people, a message which the band conveyed through both their music and the visual representations which played behind them as they performed. 

The performance followed a soft narrative arc, moving from a serious depiction of Ukraine in the midst of war to a hopeful glimpse at what a post-war Ukraine might look like. At first, the tone was almost solemn. The great destruction and loss faced by the Ukrainian people were juxtaposed with the resilience and vibrance of the culture and nation that empower them to continue fighting. Animations created by Ukrainian artists depicted stylized warriors swirling around the band as they performed, or eagles transforming into warplanes as they flew across the stage. For me, the most powerful imagery was during a song dedicated to those who are fighting for Ukraine’s freedom. The song featured a compilation of videos depicting dozens of Ukrainian soldiers in what seemed like small moments of lightness: smiling for the camera, laughing together, putting up peace signs and throwing their arms around one another. The last few songs looked forward into a future where Ukraine has peace and freedom. As the artists put it, after the winter comes spring, which they captured in a beautiful song that opened with startlingly realistic bird calls. 

This was my first time listening to music with Ukrainian roots, which made the concert particularly exciting for me. The range of vocalizations employed by the artists was fascinating, and paired with their complicated, unfamiliar harmonies, I found myself completely absorbed in the aural experience of the performance. The song “Vynnaya Ya” exemplified this range: I loved how Galanevych’s voice bounced between growling bass and high, trumpet-like scatting. 

In conclusion, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to see this spectacular group perform in Ann Arbor, and admire DakhaBrakha’s commitment to uplifting Ukrainian voices and culture.