It has been a year and a half since the Champaign-Urbana Symphony performed at a live venue. That is one of the many pleasures the September 12 concert of the C-U Symphony brought to local lovers of music and this fine resident orchestra.  It was a return that contained some unusual elements, but this last year and half has thrown many unusual elements into the mix of experiencing the performing arts.


Yes, it was the same ensemble and it was conducted by maestro Stephen Alltop that last performed live 554 days ago,  but Krannert’s resident orchestra performed on September 12, at the I Hotel on First street in Champaign. In fact, Urbana’s Krannert Center will not hear the C-U Symphony until December 9. Meanwhile, the CUSO will perform in temporary venues.

The September 12 concert in the lobby of the conference center of I Hotel featured a pops night of familiar music from the stage and  the silver screen. Leading off with a Robert Russell Bennett suite from the “The Sound of Music”, maestro Alltop ended the orchestra’s portion with a verbal postscript—“It’s so great to hear the sound of music back”. The audience enthusiastically endorsed that.

In this seventy minute concert, the C-U Symphony gave its audience precision performances of selections from “Fiddler on the Roof”, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”, Bernstein’s Overture to “West Side Story”,  Pietro Mascagni’s  Intermezzo Sinfonico from “Cavalleria Rusticata”,  a John Williams’ Suite from “Star Wars”, and Leopold Stokowski’s orchestration of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”.

These familiar musical selections were given a special touch by maestro Alltop as he introduced each one, brought in some audience participation in the “West Side Story” suite and invited a sixth grade girl from Cissna Park to conduct “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  In the five decades I have had the pleasure of hearing concerts of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, no conductor has given more of a personal touch to this orchestra than Stephen Alltop.  In addition to being a fine musician, he engages with his audiences as a friendly musical tour guide. His love of the music he conducts he shares with his listeners and his enthusiasm is infectious.

It’s no surprise that the audiences the C-U Symphony attracts have grown more diverse and younger, yet, Alltop never sacrifices his goal and the orchestra’s goal of bringing classical music of all eras to east central Illinois. Next up, is Baroque Brilliance on November 6 at the Faith United Methodist Church in Champaign. Musical hits of the 18th century will educate C-U Symphony audiences what pops concerts were like 400 years ago.

You can find out more about the C-U Symphony Orchestra on their website here.

Top image from C-U Symphony Orchestra's website.