April 26, 2012

From the Editor: In orchestral rock, Queen has company

By ROD HARMON Deputy Managing Editor

This weekend, the Portland Symphony Orchestra will present the music of the rock band Queen in its final Pops concert of the season. To commemorate the occasion, we have devoted much of this week's GO to the legendary band.

Related headlines

To see what the PSO has in store with its production, see Bob Keyes' story. Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering in Portland -- a legend in his own right and the man who oversaw the recent remastering of Queen's entire studio catalog -- talks about the band's legacy along with a Portland finalist for a spot on the official Queen cover band.

Aimsel Ponti has compiled a list of memorable Queen covers. Our Indie Film columnist, Dennis Perkins, chimes in on the new Freddie Mercury biopic starring Sacha Baron Cohen.

Queen's music is tailor-made for an orchestra. From the multi-layered vocals on "Somebody to Love" to the operatic build-up on "Bohemian Rhapsody," the band practically invented the term "symphonic rock."

However, they weren't the only ones, and they're not the first band to get the live orchestra treatment. Here's a look at some bands that have collaborated with orchestras in the past and helped elevate rock music from four guys playing on stage to full-blown arena spectacles:

Deep Purple: In between the irresistible pop-rock of "Hush" and the gritty metal classic "Smoke on the Water," Deep Purple performed a three-movement concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969. It was released later that year as the album "Concerto for Group and Orchestra."

Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Widely considered to be the most pretentious group of the '70s prog-rock movement, ELP became the first rock band to take a full orchestra on tour in 1977 in support of two classical-music infused albums titled "Works." They had to forego the orchestra after just a few dates, though, because it was too expensive.

KISS: At first glance, the hard-rock sound of KISS doesn't seem like it would blend well with a full orchestra and choir. But they did it anyway with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2003, and darn if it didn't work, especially on songs like "Beth" and "Great Expectations," which had lush orchestration applied to the original recordings. The orchestra even wore makeup. The performance was issued on CD and DVD as "Kiss Symphony: Alive IV."

Dennis DeYoung: When his bandmates in Styx decided to replace him in 1999, DeYoung decided to play the group's music solo -- but with a 50-piece orchestra. "The Music of Styx" played to packed houses and resulted in a 2004 CD and DVD.

Peter Gabriel: Genesis' original frontman is certainly no stranger to theatrical rock -- at various stages of his career, he has worn kabuki makeup, donned a red dress and fox head onstage, and scored instrumental soundtracks for films. So it was no surprise when he toured with a full orchestra in 2010-11. But unlike KISS and DeYoung, who simply played their hits the same way but with an orchestral backing, Gabriel rearranged his songs to fit the orchestra. He liked the results so much that he and the orchestra re-recorded the songs with the new arrangements in the studio following the tour.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

rharmon@pressherald.com

Twitter: RHarmonPPH

 

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