C-U Symphony Orchestra brings ‘A Season of Joy’ to Krannert

Stephen Alltop conducts the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra in front of an audience at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on March 9.

Just over 53 years ago, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra performed its first concert at Smith Music Hall. More than 250 performances later, the ensemble is still going strong, showcasing a variety of local musical talent. On Thursday, the CUSO is presenting “A Season of Joy,” conducted by music director and maestro Stephen Alltop. The holiday concert will feature seasonal classics like George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” 

Alltop is a seasoned veteran in the music world. He has conducted ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Apollo Chorus of Chicago, and has made appearances at Carnegie Hall, Basilica Cathedral of St. Denis in France, and on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He currently serves as music director of the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra and Apollo Chorus of Chicago, among others. He is also a music lecturer at Northwestern University. 

The Daily Illini had the chance to speak with Alltop about the CUSO concert and his musical background.


The Daily Illini: Could you talk about the highlights of this performance?

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Stephen Alltop: This will be a very community-oriented event, because it will feature the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra, it will have the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana (BACH) — which will be featured in Bach’s “Magnificat” — and the Illinois Children’s chorus, which will sing not only in Bach’s “Magnificat,” but they’ll join with the adult singers on the second half of the program, too, in our carol sing and the suite from music from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”


DI: Have you ever conducted the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra before?

SA: I have twice. I’ve conducted it for my audition concert with the music director search last March, and then I conducted my first concert as music director in October — October 5th. This will be my third time.


DI: What made you want to work with the CUSO?

SA: Because Champaign-Urbana is a great community, and the orchestra has terrific musicians in it, and they get to play in one of the greatest concert halls in our country. And it’s also a community with a wonderful university. I’m a faculty member at Northwestern, and so I love the fact that our orchestra includes not only faculty and community members, but students, because it’s a great opportunity for them.


DI: How did you choose the music for this holiday performance?

SA: Well, this is a holiday program, so we wanted to have music of the season, which everything on the program is. And the nice variety from really well-known, popular things like Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” to fun, lesser-known things like the overture on “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” that is done in a baroque style. And that precedes a Bach masterwork, which is the “Magnificat.” And that’s the most serious classical piece on the program.

So I’m really glad that we have this mix from light and popular holiday things to Bach’s “Magnificat,” which will also involve not only the choirs I mentioned, but we also have five young soloists who will be featured in the Bach.


DI: How long does it take to practice and prepare for the concert?

SA: Well, the choirs have been working for some time, and the orchestra (met this) week and (put) everything together. And I’ve been working with the soloists, and I do individual work with the soloists before they work with the orchestra.


DI: What do you do when you’re not working with  the CUSO?

SA: Well, I teach full-time at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and I’m music director of a few other organizations including the Apollo Chorus of Chicago … and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, who I’ve been music director for a number of years. And I also have a summertime involvement in Wisconsin with (Green Lake Festival of Music), where I’m music director.


DI: What made you want to work in the music field in the first place?

SA: That’s something that came from very deep inside me. I love music; I love the sound of it. It’s something I feel really deeply inside me, and I really feel very happy that I get to make music and lots of it.


DI: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about this upcoming performance?

SA: I know that it’s an exam week on campus, but I think that students would really love it, and I think the community folks will also have a great time. It’s a wonderful program to bring kids to because we will do a version of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and we will also have a visit, of course, from Santa Claus.

Reema can be reached at [email protected].