Entertainment Music

Sunday 19 May 2019

Rock 'n' roll 'n' strings

Irish Chamber Orchestra
Irish Chamber Orchestra

Tony Clayton-Lea

Pop/rock and classical might seem like polar opposites, but amped-up guitars and refined, detailed arrangements can often produce superb results.

The first example of rock and classical fusing together on an album is widely regarded as Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969), but culture historians would argue that the first example of classical music playing a major part in pop was in 1967 when Procul Harum rifled Bach for their huge hit, 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale'. After that, the floodgates opened: The Moody Blues referenced Ravel on their 1967 album, Days Of Future Passed; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded a head-shaking live version of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition (1971). David Bowie was the first major rock star to use classical music as an intro to his concerts (albeit with the heavily synthesised version commissioned by film director Stanley Kubrick for his controversial 1971 work, A Clockwork Orange), while the likes of US rock star Frank Zappa wrote music that was directly referenced by composers Edgard Varèse and Anton Webern. Meanwhile, in New York City, Velvet Underground was messing with avant-garde classical music in a way that many have copied but very few have bettered.

When rock musicians weren't, shall we say, borrowing from the great and good of the classical world, they were utilising compact constituent parts of orchestras to beautifully enhance their songs. The best of these in recent years is Elvis Costello's The Juliet Letters (1993), which he recorded with The Brodsky String Quartet. The album is viewed by many as the best example of the fusion of contemporary adult pop and appropriately applied classical. The less said about Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio (1991) and Billy Joel's Fantasties & Delusions (2001), the better.

Having witnessed the experiences and experiments of the past 50 or so years, the Irish Chamber Orchestra won't be making any mistakes at Féile Classical. With musicians of the quality of violinist Ken Rice (who was once a member of Kilkenny art-pop band, Engine Alley) and James Palmer (who has worked with DJ Pete Tong on his Ibiza Classics series of shows) you can bet your bottom oboe that the pitch will be as perfect as that underneath the protective covering of the Semple Stadium grounds.

Which songs the ICO will be enhancing and engaging with isn't yet known, but we can safely say that some of Ireland's best-known pop/rock bands will be performing some of Ireland's most familiar pop/rock songs to the accompaniment of intuitively played cellos, violins, double bass, and violas. For two nights only, welcome to a gig with strings attached.

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