Bringing the Hits to Life: The ESO 22/23 Robbins Pops Series

Bringing the Hits to Life: The ESO 22/23 Robbins Pops Series

By Kyra Droog, Writer, ESO & Winspear Centre

There is something truly special about an Edmonton Symphony Orchestra pops concert. From the first time you see the beautiful image advertising the concert to when the lights dim just before the concert begins to the thunderous applause as the orchestra takes their final bow, the ESO Robbins Pops journey is truly incredible.

But what exactly constitutes ESO Robbins Pops?

“Our Robbins Pops concerts include a touch of everything that pop culture has to offer that can be performed by an orchestra,” says Rob McAlear, Artistic Administrator. “Broadway, Hollywood, Vegas, Mardi Gras – it's all there.” The upcoming Robbins Pops season launches with a particularly exciting concert that highlights the music of the Beatles. Concerts of the season include, but are not limited to, Celtic Adventures with the McDades, The Mambo Kings: Hot Latin Nights, The Power of the Orchestra, and more.

When we think about the broad umbrella that Pops music fits under, it might seem difficult at first to establish how specific selections are made, and what music is prioritized during each season. For McAlear, there’s a simple priority that makes the ESO Robbins Pops series truly stand out.

“The number one priority is the orchestra,” explains McAlear. “When our audience members buy tickets, they are expecting the orchestra to be a focal point of the show, not playing discreetly and quietly in the background. Ensuring that the orchestra is going to be heard in its best light is the first step to having everything else fall into place.”

There are many aspects of the 22/23 ESO Robbins Pops series that McAlear is looking forward to, but there is one in particular that is worthy of attention. In comparison to the previous few seasons, the ability to have more members of the orchestra on-stage this season is a big deal. “When composers write music for Hollywood films, they are writing for large orchestras. Broadway showtunes are often rewritten for large orchestras,” says McAlear. “Popular music is full of colour, and this colour comes from a large variety of instruments, especially percussion instruments. COVID-19 made that difficult, but this season, we have more room on stage to allow for that variety and those colours.”

One specific show that Rob is excited about is the Bourbon Street Parade with Michael Kaeshammer, conducted by Lucas Waldin. “These two young, smart, talented Canadian artists put their heads together and came up with this unique and intriguing show,” says Rob. “It will have such a fascinating energy, and I can’t wait to experience it.”

While there are new and exciting Pops shows each year, like Bourbon Street Parade, there are also shows that our audiences have come to expect each year, like our holiday shows. McAlear puts a special focus on these shows, because, as he says: “It has to be the same every year, but it also has to be different every year. Audiences want to hear their favourite holiday tunes, but not in the exact same, cookie-cutter way from year to year.” For that exact reason, McAlear and his team spend a lot of time to ensure that holiday shows can meet or exceed any expectations that the ESO’s audience has.

McAlear believes that Pops concerts have something that make them truly accessible for anyone – from those who have a deep love and enjoyment for the most impressive of symphonies to those who have never heard the ESO perform before. “The big reason that we do Pops shows is because it’s the music that a whole lot of people want to hear. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy. It tugs on the emotions – inevitably, people smile, laugh, and sometimes even cry,” he says. “There’s no way that Pops can compare with the great masterpieces of orchestral literature, but there’s a lot to be said about going to a concert to be entertained.”

To see all of the exciting concerts planned for the 22/23 Robbins Pops series, presented by the Robbins Foundation, check out our website. Hopefully we’ll see you at a Robbins Pops concert soon!