Claire Nowak

Classical Mystery Tour Comes Together With Beatles Hits

Symphony orchestra confronts British Invasion at the Marcus Center.

By - Sep 24th, 2014 02:41 pm
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Classical Mystery Tour

Classical Mystery Tour

During their 10 years as a group, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr experimented with musical styles ranging from rock anthems to pop ballads. Now the Beatles’ music can be categorized in another genre: classical.

The Classical Mystery Tour pairs a Beatles tribute band and symphony orchestras as they perform transcriptions of the famous tunes that sound strikingly close to the originals. Jim Owen (Lennon), Tony Kishman (McCartney) David John (Harrison) and Chris Camilleri (Starr) will appear with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Sept. 26 – 28.

Martin Herman

Martin Herman

“The music itself has such a lasting power,” says Martin Herman, the show’s conductor. “It’s become its own classical music in its own light, and by that I mean, the material is still fresh, still reinventing itself for each new generation of listeners.”

When Owen pitched the idea to Herman almost 20 years ago, the conductor could not see the appeal of a hybrid performance. Nevertheless, he transcribed a collection of Beatles songs note for note with pitch accuracy. The show debuted in 1997 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center with overwhelming success; it has toured the globe ever since. The band has played with orchestras across North America, twice in Australia and even in South Africa and Denmark just last summer.

The set list includes well-known songs, each with a distinct instrumentation. “Hello, Goodbye” features four trumpets, percussion and strings, while “Yesterday” slows down the show with acoustic guitar and a string quartet. The combination of strings, saxophone, trumpet, percussion and harpsichord bring out the simple, powerful message of “All You Need Is Love.” During“She’s Leaving Home,” the band drops out entirely, leaving Kishman singing while the orchestra showcases a double string quartet, double bass and a harp.

“Everyone has to listen to each other very, very carefully. Ensemble is everything in [“She’s Leaving Home”],” Herman says. “When you’re playing rock and roll tunes basically and then suddenly everything thins out to where it’s only orchestra … it requires a real shift in mentality all of a sudden and that’s challenging for all of us. Everybody suddenly has to refocus.”

Herman transcribed each song – there are around 30 in the show’s repertoire – on his own, a process that takes anywhere from eight to twelve hours. He claims it is not terribly difficult, but it does take a lot of listening “done with a great deal of love.” Comparing them to the original tracks, Herman believes he has compiled a set of authentic transcriptions.

“(Audience members are) not gonna hear some beefed up arrangement of tunes,” Herman says. “They’re going to actually hear it as if they were listening to a recording, note for note accurate. We take great pride in that. We’ve been very, very careful about that.”

The show’s material allows audiences to relate to the musicians on stage in a way more traditional pieces often cannot. Some, world-class soloists and patrons alike, grew up with the music and can relate to it, while others can appreciate it as second-generation listeners.The audience is also invited to clap and sing along during portions of the performance.

“The audience reaction, I think, is always somewhat surprising to the players who haven’t done it before,” Herman says, “when they see the absolute swell of support from the audience and how much the music means to people, it’s always very rewarding to do.”

A long-time Beatles fan himself, Herman says the Fab Four had a strong influence in his love for music as a child. After seeing them perform in Atlanta in 1965, he could not get enough of their music.

“I can remember the sensation of opening the albums when they got to the house,” he says. “My mom would get them and listen to them just from beginning to end … I was just completely mesmerized by the music.”

From a conductor’s standpoint, the main difference in adding the band to an orchestra is the drummer, who sets the tempo instead of the conductor. Herman’s job becomes more centered around and keeping everyone together. Another important challenge is finding the correct sound balance, especially since the music is mainly rock. The Classical Mystery Tour crew brings its own sound engineers on the road to ensure the symphonic-rock-and-roll hybrid.

“We might be playing beautifully on stage,” Herman says, “but if the sound is terrible or if you can’t hear what people are playing, that becomes a problem.”

Other than that, there are no obvious distinctions between performing works from Beethoven or Stravinsky and those from the leaders of the “British Invasion” into American pop culture.

“We’re playing chamber music, essentially, but on a bigger scale,” Herman says, “and that’s the joy of it. We’re still making music together.”

8 p.m. Sept 26 & 27 and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $21.50 – $101.50, available online or by calling 414-291-7605.

Season Sampler from The Florentine Opera Company

The Florentine Opera Company begins its @ The Center series with its 81st Season Sampler. During this annual presentation, audiences can get an exclusive preview of the company’s upcoming 2014-2015 season. Studio artists will perform selections from “The Flying Dutchman,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Elmer Gantry,” and “The Elixir of Love.” The sampler also includes parts of “Goldie B. Locks and the Three Singing Bears,” the Florentine’s world premier touring opera.

7:30 p.m. Sept. 26 and 27 at the Wayne & Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center. Tickets are $15, available online or by calling 414-291-5700 ext 224.

Boulevard Theatre presents Pal Joey

In its first production as an itinerant company, Boulevard Theatre uses concert staging to put on the 1940s musical, “Pal Joey.” With this form of production, actors perform without costumes or sets and use minimal blocking, while the audience sits on the stage with performers. Only 100 tickets are available for each performance to ensure an intimate experience for each patron.

7:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 and 27 and 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center. Dress rehearsal at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 25. Tickets are $20 for the dress rehearsal and $30 for performances. They are available online or by calling 414-766-5005.


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