PGSO featuring Gilbert and Sullivan during Pops In The Park this Sunday

Anyone who wants to hear some of the poppier side of orchestral music can park it on Sunday afternoon.

Bring your blankets and lawn chairs, bring your picnics and families. Pull up some lawn at Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park and take in the Prince George Symphony Orchestra's annual Pops In The Park event.

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This year the PGSO has broken the concert into two equal parts. One half is Gilbert and the other half is Sullivan. The musical menu is a full order of famed musical theatre duo that gave the world The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, Iolanthe and many other lite-operas that became some of the most famous in the world and helped define the Victorian era.

"All the music will be overtures and songs from different shows by Gilbert and Sullivan," said conductor Jos Delgado-Guevara.

"It's a G and S highlights reel, if you will," said general manager Jeremy Stewart.

Delgado-Guevara quickly added "They are all fun, they are all memorable. It is everywhere in our culture. It was even a part of Star Trek: The Next Generation episode - Captain Picard liked to sing Gilbert & Sullivan. Those songs touch us in so many ways."

Librettist W. S. Gilbert wrote the words and the composer Arthur Sullivan wrote the music in this decades-long partnership. They were the first John & Paul a century before The Beatles, or Rodgers & Hammerstein before the emergence of Broadway. Their creative power was so significant it spawned the Oscar-winning film Topsy Turvey that examined the conflicts and triumphs the two prolific writers experienced on their path to superstardom in their day.

The PGSO is the biggest band in town, but they have no lead singer. So three special guest stars will step to the front of the stage to deliver the lyrical content of the event.

Beverley Smith is a veteran vocal presence in Prince George, having prominent credits as a singer and actor in productions like Fiddler On The Roof, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Oliver and many others.

Wil Fundal is the principal anthem singer for the Prince George Cougars, a seasoned musical theatre cast member (The Producers, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, etc.), and is often a featured vocalist at special events where music unfolds.

Amanda Spurlock is freshly off the stage where her lead role performance was heralded in Mary Poppins, as well as past credits like co-starring in Beauty & The Beast, Miss Saigon, Brigadoon, The Producers and many others.

"It is always an honour to be able to be a part of a PGSO show," said Spurlock. "Jos and the orchestra are such a fun and talented group to work with. I love Gilbert and Sullivan and I haven't performed anything from them since I did HMS Pinafore with Judy (Russell, musical theatre producer) so I'm really excited to be doing this particular show."

Smith has frequently guested with the PGSO, including some Gilbert and Sullivan numbers at past events the orchestra has hosted. She was delighted to be drawn back into their plans, especially for what is annually the symphony's biggest crowd.

"I do believe it is all about children experiencing music in a joyful setting. Imagine the impression that can be created in their minds forever," said Smith. "That is what excites me about Pops In The Park: young children and their families can experience, free of charge, live orchestra and sing and dance along if they feel like it. My own little two-year-old granddaughter will be there attending her first live concert. What a magical day and a beautiful moment in time for a child to take part in. I hope many will come out on Sunday with their own little ones to experience the joy of music and sit back and listen to our wonderful PGSO."

Fundal has shared the stage with both Spurlock and Smith in the past, but has not yet worked with the PGSO. He relished the chance to add that experience, especially for an event so rich in vocal focus.

"This is the first time I've had the opportunity to perform as a guest soloist with any professional orchestra," he said. "I was even more excited when I heard the music was from The Mikado. I had just finished playing the role of Nanki Poo with the Northern Orchestra and Lyn Vernon.

"The biggest surprise for me was being asked to sing as one of the three little maids. I'll be pulling out my inner Ms. Fondle to perform as Petti-Sing. Performing with Jos, who will conduct for the last time, is a huge treat. I hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoy bringing the characters to life."

Yes, Fundal said what many in the PGSO circle had been feeling. There is a touch of nostalgia because Delgado-Guevara will hand the baton over to a slate of guest conductors for the rest of the mainstage season, each one auditioning for the job he has held at the artistic helm of the orchestra for the past year, stepping in on that interim basis after holding the concertmaster position since 2008.

He will be returning to the concertmaster chair, not leaving the orchestra altogether, so the nostalgia is more sweet than bitter and it will place the PGSO in strong leadership hands once a new conductor / artistic director is hired at the end of this current season.

"I have to say, I'll miss Jos's programming," said Stewart, an admirer of Delgado-Guevara's ability to pick music for each concert event. "Nobody knows the orchestra better than Jos - its strengths, and the sparks in the musical selections that ignite the musicians. The new artistic director, whomever that is, will get there too, but Jos has that history and we've seen the results."

"The relationship between the concertmaster and the artistic director is very strong anyway," said Delgado-Guevara, "so I think there will be easy transitions in a lot of ways."

Those music selection skills to which Stewart referred are part of the reason Gilbert and Sullivan is the focus of this year's Pops In The Park concert. Delgado-Guevara knew that Gilbert and Sullivan songs were time-tested and, as he put it, became ubiquitous "because they have an internal rhythm that people get caught up in, and that makes for a more enjoyable outdoor concert" because the people in the audience have a participatory reaction to that kind of bop-along music.

Stewart explained that it is difficult to carry out a pops concert for any orchestra walking a fine financial line.

"We get asked all the time 'why don't you ever do some Led Zepplin' or big rock numbers that use orchestra and the answer is: 'because the licensing rights to any big-name songs cost more for three minutes of music than we can afford for an entire concert of music.' So Gilbert and Sullivan is ideal because people love it, the musicians have fun with it, it's in the public domain so it doesn't cost us any extra licensing fees, and we have the charts in our own library."

That allowed Delgado-Guevara to call in the singers and let them choose their own music. Each one has a different voice timbre, he said, so there was no danger any of them would have conflicting selections. They could confidently request their own stuff.

Pops In The Park happens on Sunday at 2 p.m. All audience members are asked to come a bit early to get good seating on the lawns of the park in front of the Kiwanis Bandshell, and in the event it rains, have time to relocate to the Prince George Playhouse where the event will occur if there is a weather washout.

There is no charge to attend. Food vendors will be on site so patrons are reminded to bring cash for buying snacks, and dress appropriately for the weather, whatever it may be.

The forecast from Environment Canada as of press time was for Sunday to be sunny with cloudy periods and a high of 16 degrees. There was also a 100 per cent chance of musical flurries.

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