I have often suffered after being dragged to the compulsory holiday concert or ballet performance that seems to be mandatory this time of the year. It seems almost every institution has its own concert format and many of them have fallen flat with me. But, the era of Stephen Alltop with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony has injected new life into the annual holiday concert, and I can hardly wait until December 12.

On that date, in the Krannert Center’s Foellinger Great Hall, you will be treated to the eclectic programming skills of Stephen Alltop. His tenure with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony has been a rich and rewarding one, with innovative programming and superlative performances by our much-loved local orchestra. In addition to expanding the orchestra’s reach and range, he has included symphonic works with choral portions.

Now, that is not as easy as it seems, but with more than a little help from the University of Illinois choral groups and the Central Illinois Youth Chorus, his expansion of concert choral music into the symphonic programming of the CU Symphony has been one of the most noticeable and successful signatures of the Altop era. The good news on this expanded sound experience is that Maestro Alltop’s mastery of musical forms extends to choral music.

Sharon Starr, a veteran of the Chicago Master Singers, has also performed with the Northwestern University Summer Chorus, which Stephen Alltop conducted. She remembers him this way—“Stephen Alltop is a first-rate choral director who gets great results from non-professional choral groups. He educates and challenges singers while making the experience fun and bringing out the best in every singer.”

Stephen Alltop conducting. Photo by Darrell Hoemann.

The choral groups who have performed with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony are amateurs, but you would hardly know it. Maestro Alltop has enriched many a concert with beautifully tuned voices from local vocal ensembles. Alltop’s real skill is selecting the right vocal ensemble for the event and they bring in their own conductor, and he coordinates the vocal and orchestra performances.

A holiday concert would not be a proper event without some choral music, and as a veteran two previous CU Symphony events that Maestro Alltop has assembled, I can attest he makes all the right selections. This year the CU Symphony will perform with two soloists and the Central Illinois Youth Chorus, led by Andrea Solya and Ann Marie Morrissette.

There will be predictable Christmas-themed music, like Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” and a lot of music you would not predict. Paul Carey’s “Unending Flame” is a celebration of Hanukkah; Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu” adds some modern music to the Christmas canon. The Maestro has also programmed works from Bach, Mozart, Monteverdi and Praetorius for that classical Christmas touch. The surprises do not even end here, so, without too many spoilers– watch and listen as Stephen Alltop takes to the keyboard and a visitor from the North Pole pays a visit to the Great Hall.

This is a great opportunity to introduce young audiences to the wonderful sounds of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony. For more information on the December 12 concert go to Krannertcenter.com, or call the Krannert Ticket office at—333-6280

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Jeff Nelson

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