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Classical Notes

How best to cross over

Posted at 12:03 PM on March 26, 2006 by Don Lee (6 Comments)

Osmo Vanska conducted the Minnesota Orchestra this weekend in music by ABBA. Willingly. Eagerly, even, as he told MPRís Tom Crann Friday on All Things Considered.

Though I am not an ABBA fan, I love a lot of pop music and I think the classical field could profitably mine that territory more often than it does. Classical music doesnít have to be a thing apart from contemporary life, but to many people it seems that way. It may be a step in the right direction to perform straight-on orchestral arrangements of popular songs, as they did at Orchestra Hall this weekend. If nothing else, itís a way for Osmo Vanska to tell ABBA fans, ďSee, we donít bite.Ē

But the gap orchestras must bridge is more than a social one. They should also be sending a message to devotees of other musics that says, in effect, ďThe musical languages we speak arenít as different as you might think.Ē The first step there is up to composers. Iíd like to hear more of them extract raw materials from rock and create new musical substance, as Beethoven and Dvorak and Vaughan Williams did with folk music in centuries past. Like what Philip Glass did in the 1990s when he created his "Low" and "Heroes" symphonies based on music by David Bowie.

I know Glass isnít alone, but how much more is there where that came from? Not much that Iím aware of, but maybe I just havenít looked hard enough. If you can recommend any rock-classical crossovers that stand up as music you really like to sit down and listen to, Iíd love to hear about them.


Comments (6)

The recent collaboration by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie (formerly of the Cocteau Twins)comes to mind, as does Budd's earlier work with Brian Eno.

Posted by Jason | March 26, 2006 12:52 PM


It was great to see the lobby of Orchestra Hall filled with eager, excited fans an hour before the concert. But the sound of the orchestra was really thin, except for "Gimme, gimme, gimme." And the whole evening was very shallow, staying in one little niche of the emotional spectrum. Maybe an evening devoted to Classic Rock, instead of one artist. But would the tail end up wagging the dog, with the orchestra forced to do Pops concerts all the time?

Posted by John | March 27, 2006 7:34 AM


An interesting question you ask about the cross-over music, and it was fun to thing about during my morning commute. Perhaps the sub-rosa issue is "what would bring a younger audience into the concert hall?"

I don't know about that, but I do know this; Michael Kamen conducting the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in a collaborative effort with Metallica is very good. There are other cross-overs that I'm curious about but haven't heard; Nigel Kennedy playing Hendrix, an orchestral presentations of Led Zeppelin's music by the London Phil called Kashmir. They've also recorded the music Sting and Jethro Tull.

Best Regards


Posted by ted | March 27, 2006 8:59 AM


Hey...Philip Glass produced the London Phil's "Kashmir". oops. Who knew?


Posted by afternoon ted | March 27, 2006 10:35 AM


I attended the MN Orchestra ABBA concert, and it was a lot of fun, with outstanding vocalists.
To the "culture vultures" who would rather be put to sleep by an obscure 18th century composer, I would say buy a CD at Barnes and Noble and stay in your lonely cocoon!

Posted by jason | March 29, 2006 7:27 PM


Moody Blues is the first "rock" group to do a concept album with symphony orchestra on their 1967 album called Days of Future Passed. Of course their live shows with orchestra is well known too.

Posted by Daisuke Takeuchi | April 1, 2006 6:46 PM