Photo by Tom Russo
A German classical composer and an English alternative rock band come together as one in January as part of a unique pops offering from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra.
On Jan. 21, the orchestra presents Brahms v. Radiohead at the Ohio Theatre. The performance will be led by conductor, composer and arranger Steve Hackman.
Hackman is creative director and conductor of the FUSE@PSO series for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and former music director of the “Music Mash-Up” series at the Colorado Music Festival. He is known for his combinations of classical and alternative music. Other shows in his repertoire include Beethoven v. Coldplay and Copland v. Bon Iver.
Hackman wants his audiences to think about music in a completely different way when attending his shows, he says.
He attended the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia while also writing songs, producing albums and playing at piano bars. But once he entered the professional realm of classical music, Hackman says, he knew he wanted to make an impact.
“Not only did I see that world was desperately wanting for ways to connect with new audiences – audiences my age, basically – but also, I had my own desperate want to contribute creatively in a way that was unique to my experience, my skill set and my tastes,” he says.
Photo courtesy of CAPA
Hackman, who now lives in Los Angeles, previously worked with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, where he was creative director of a series that was aimed at young new audience members, in addition to his previous gig in Colorado and his current gig in Pittsburgh.
The performance at the Ohio Theatre will synthesize all four movements of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 with eight songs from the Radiohead album OK Computer, including “Paranoid Android,” “Karma Police,” “No Surprises” and “Let Down.” The show combines Hackman’s passion for both musicians, he says.
“That’s what any creative person is doing: They’re creating some unexpected combinations of different experiences they’ve had along their artistic journey,” Hackman says.
The performance will feature 75 members of the orchestra, in addition to three solo vocalists singing in harmony.
Though some might consider Brahms and Radiohead an odd pairing, Hackman says blending their music for the performance wasn’t as difficult as it might seem. It required breaking them down into melody, form and rhythm, and identifying which components they may have in common with one another.
Photo courtesy Darlene Delbecq
“When I hear music, I immediately start to break it down, distill it and identify what the skeleton of the music means, and this is no different,” Hackman says.
The show will also allow orchestra performers to experience Brahms’ music, with which the vast majority of them are intimately familiar, in a different way.
“These covers of these songs are not covers,” Hackman says. “They’re re-imaginations of the songs and they, of course, differ from the original Radiohead versions because of all the Brahms.”
Hackman’s visit to Columbus is one of several stops on a multi-city tour that will also bring him to Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. The Indianapolis show will be the debut of his latest creation: Tchaikovsky meets rapper Drake.
Brahms v. Radiohead is what started it all, though, and audience members can expect a fascinating show, Hackman says.
“I’m not sure it’ll be anything they’ve ever heard before, frankly, because the idea with this show is to really be authentic to the classical music experience,” Hackman says, “and yet, at the same time, to inject it with this totally contemporary music.”
Hackman describes the effort to blend two different artists together as “transformative,” and says people who come to such performances often have a sense of gratitude toward orchestras that incorporate artists like Radiohead into the show.
Photo by Randall L. Schieber
“I would hope that (attendees) come away with the idea that, ‘Gosh, I’m so glad that someone took a chance and combined those things that no one thinks should be combined, because it’s right up my alley,’” Hackman says.
Hackman appreciates the creativity of the artists whose work he is combining and is grateful for the opportunity to bring them together.
“I know how it felt for me to hear OK Computer for the first time, to hear Brahms’ first symphony for the first time, and it’s very special for me to share that with audiences in a totally new, original and authentic way,” he says.
The orchestra, for its part, has been interested in the show since it first came into being. As strange as it was, officials at CAPA, which oversees operations for the orchestra, knew it had potential to draw interest.
“I think this is going to bring in an audience that might not even know the Columbus Symphony exists,” says Rich Corsi, director of operations for CAPA. “I think the name alone is going to sell tickets.”
Columbus Symphony Orchestra presents Brahms v. Radiohead
Jan. 21, 8 p.m.
Matthew Kent is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.
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