REVIEW: Michigan Pops Orchestra Concert “Tick Tock, It’s Pops O’Clock”

7:00pm • Saturday, December 3, 2022 • Michigan Theater

This was my first experience as an audience-member for the Michigan Pops Orchestra. While I knew beforehand their reputation for wacky, fun performances, I was still surprised and delighted by the personality the musicians brought into their work. Not only did they play with excellence, but musicians were featured in short skits introducing the music, as well as in videos made to accompany the program. I’ve never been to an orchestra performance with so many musician-specific fan bases–Anthony Medei, co-tech director and viola player, seemed particularly popular in his comedic features as Milly Bagic, Doc Brown, and the evening’s gameshow host.

The orchestra took several opportunities during the evening to wish farewell to its current executive director, Katie Sesi, a graduating senior. One of my favorite moments during the performance was during the final few measures of Amilcare Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours.” As she played, a little anticipatory smile appeared on Sesi’s face that widened into a full grin as the orchestra struck the final note of the song, a moment which I felt sweetly captured the dedication and love Pops musicians feel for the organization.

One of the pieces I heard Michigan Pops would interpret on Saturday night, and which impelled me to buy tickets, was “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror Picture Show. I am a big RHPS fan, and I was curious about how a glam rock piece could be arranged for orchestra. Coincidentally, during the performance a story was shared about how the executive board had to scour the internet for an orchestra score of the piece, finally locating one used by an obscure orchestra in Germany. Ultimately, although the musicians did an admirable job of bringing the piece to fruition, my final opinion is that orchestra-Time-Warp might have been better left in Germany. Rocky Horror ≠ orchestra music.

Overall, however, I immensely enjoyed the mix of songs chosen by the orchestra, which in another context might seem eclectic, but which was roped together by the theme of “Time” encapsulated in the performance. True to its role as a “Pops” orchestra, the songs were almost all familiar to me. I liked how the program illustrated the versatility of orchestra as a medium, which throughout the evening alternately took center-stage in pieces like Beethoven’s Fifth and shifted gracefully into the background as, for example, a screen showed a student-created speed-run of Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. Additionally, I appreciated how many of the songs Pops performs are famous enough that everyone might have heard of them, but not everyone gets the chance to experience them live in concert. Michigan Pops offers an accessible opportunity for audiences to experience iconic music live and an entry point for everyone to get interested in orchestra.

PREVIEW: Oh, the Places Pops Goes!

On April 2nd, 7 pm, Michigan Pops Orchestra, the U of M’s student-run, student-directed orchestra, will present “Oh, the Places Pops Goes!” in the Michigan Theater. The program includes  Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2, Michael Giacchino’s UP, Yokota and Kondo’s Super Mario Galaxy, and John Williams’s E.T.

I’ve been to Pops Orchestra’s last movie-themed concert, and it was such a cute event. Pops Orchestra entertained the audience with humorous movies they have filmed themselves to accompany the music, and the music they chose were the ones that both classic-lovers and non-classic lovers could enjoy. Above all that, it was a local and heart-warming event comprised of Orchestra members and their family and friends. I’m expecting that this concert will also carry a similar warmth, so I’m excited about it.

Students with Passport to the Arts can get free entry! More information about where to find the Passport to the Arts can be found here.

More information about the event can be found here.

REVIEW: The Reign of Pops

The Michigan Pops Orchestra never fails to be entertaining with its program and exception with its music. This semester, we entered the Pops Kingdom and were greeted by many crown jewels of the classical music scene as Music Director Rotem Weinberg and Assistant Music Director Tal Benatar walked out dressed like kings and directed some royally magnificent songs.

The orchestra started with the “Overture to Nabucco,” followed by songs from Enchanted accompanied by a wonderfully-produced adventure video. There was some friendly banter where the person who claimed that he could play the violin with both hands tied behind his back was dubbed the “Lyin’ King,” which was a perfect segue into the Lion King Medley. Other selections from movies also featured some stunning soloists, including Mikaela Secada in “Almost There” from Princess and the Frog, Lorna Courtney in “Just Around the Riverbend” from Pocahontas. More quintessential royal pieces included Swan Lake, “Emperor Waltz,” and “The Prince of Egypt,” and we also explored the video game world with the “Kingdom Hearts Overture” that continued the journey of Enchanted. Finally, we ended with an out-of-this-world performance of the Star Wars Suite before wrapping up with the traditional “Hail to the Victors” encore.

The interactive piece of the program was a game called Name That Royal. We started off easy, with Queen Elizabeth, and then the responses became more clever, such as King Kong, Burger King, and Princess Fiona, so props to Pops for being just as witty as always. The music, though it seemed to fall apart a bit towards the end of the program, was enchanting and beautiful, parking during the “Kingdom Hearts Overture” and “The Prince of Egypt.” The Pops Orchestra took us on a magical journey, and the music they delivered was certainly worthy of a king.

PREVIEW: The Reign of Pops

A new year means new music from the Michigan Pops Orchestra. For the fall semester, Michigan Pops is taking over the world with its show, “The Reign of Pops.” The great theme of royalty can be seen in the music of Swan Lake, Prince of Egypt, and many Disney tunes. As usual of Pops concerts, The Reign of Pops will combine vocal performers, special effects, and multimedia for an unforgettable musical experience. The concert is Sunday, November 18 at 7pm at the Michigan Theater. Tickets are $5 for students, $8 for adults, and free for students in public schools and seniors 65+. Tickets are available at the door on the night of the concert.

REVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

As much as I love words, they can only do so much. When I am speechless, when words escape me, I turn to music to express what I cannot put into words. The Michigan Pops Orchestra have combined my two favorite modes of communication, putting on a night full of literature, ranging from childhood favorites to modern classic, all in the form of music.

Disney made a beautiful showing through Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and movie and musical soundtracks had their fair share of representation through powerful, emotional performances of Forrest Gump, Jane Eyre, The Godfather, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Fantastic Beasts, Romeo and Juliet, and The Sound of Music. All of these selections gave the Pops a chance to shine.

The break from literature was found in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concert in D Major. Katie Sesi was the winner of the 2018 MPO Concerto Competition and performed this beautiful masterpiece with breathtaking precision and tackled the incredibly intimidating technical difficulty with poise. I’m excited to see all the talent she has to bring to the music scene at University of Michigan when she attends in the fall, as she already received a standing ovation with her debut performance with the Michigan Pops Orchestra.

The night featured soloists Kevin Starnes, who shook the jungle with his silky baritone rendition of “Bare Necessities,” and Allison Prost and Michael Floriano as they took on the classic love duet, “All I Ask Of You.”

It wouldn’t be a Pops concert without a hilarious video narrative and a trivia game. This time we followed the story of a princess, stand partners, and the inferior Harvard Pops Orchestra as music director Rotem Weinberg read the story of the PrinPop Bride from “Scheherazade” for a sick boy. The battle of the bookworm consisted of naming a classic book based on amusing summaries (my favorite was “teenage boy fights noseless alum”).

Overall, it was a pretty standard Pops concert, which means it was phenomenal, full of the usual amount of laughter and engagement and amazing music you find at a Pops concert. I can’t wait to see what the Michigan Pops Orchestra has to present next year!

PREVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

Once upon a time, a student-run, student-directed orchestra formed on the University of Michigan campus, bringing engaging, exhilarating music to the stage. With special effects to blow your mind, these familiar tunes from all your favorite movies will make you dance internally and sing along as your inner child rejoices.

The Michigan Pops Orchestra’s “Once Upon a Pops” concert will be at the Michigan Theater on April 7 at 7pm. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults, but it’s FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher! So snatch one up around campus and take a trip down memory lane this weekend!