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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Roll over Beethoven: It's all about Rick Wakeman's orchestral crossovers now

File:Rickwakemanmoog.jpgOver the last five decades, classical and popular music have been uneasy bedfellows. Rock stars Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Lynne and Gary Numan, and electronic pioneers Walter – now Wendy – Carlos, Tomita and William Orbit have reinterpreted Beethoven, Holst and Satie. For a long time, the classical establishment, critics especially, have been sniffy about musicians like Paul McCartney invading their turf. But talk to Rick Wakeman, the classically-trained keyboard maestro, who is about to tour his 1974 album Journey to the Centre of the Earth with an orchestra, as well as to conductor Charles Hazlewood, the artistic director of Orchestival, a new festival celebrating the orchestra and the breakdown of musical barriers, and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, who will appear at Orchestival, and you can hear attitudes shifting.

“In the early Seventies, classical orchestras had little experience of working with popular music. The main problem always was that you can’t write ‘feel’,” says Wakeman. “Similarly, rock musicians couldn’t understand that, if you were going to combine orchestra and electric instrumentation, the guitar, keyboards or drums had to become part of the orchestra. So you just had orchestral arrangements sitting on top of the music. I started noticing a change in the Eighties and Nineties. Now orchestras are so worldly wise and knowledgeable. They can tune instantly into whatever form of music they are asked to play. The Wagnerian dream of ‘all in the orchestra’ has come true. There is no doubt that it works. It’s exciting. And audiences love it.”
Hazlewood’s decision to launch Orchestival was the culmination of his long-held, “passionate belief that music is one broad stream, with lots of different currents within it. Somehow, over the years, we’ve settled into a strange position where music has become divided into mutually-exclusive categories. If someone likes Wagner, it’s unthinkable they might also like drum’n’bass or soul. That’s nonsense. There is so much which connects all music. A descending bass line in Purcell will crop up in dub or a Portishead track. There’s a tremendous connectivity,” he states with a missionary zeal manifest in the rationale behind Orchestival. “I feel the orchestra needs to be brought closer to the mainstream. You can collide different parts of the musical spectrum in the most fabulous new and unusual ways using this great colouristic device: the orchestra. And it doesn’t need to sound like dad at the disco. It can be a genuinely new hybrid. That’s what we’re seeking to establish at Orchestival.”


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