Today marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of French composer Georges Bizet, whose aria ‘Je Crois Entendre Encore’ from Act I of Les Pêcheurs de Perles, or The Pearl Fishers, David surprised just about everybody with by including it in his ‘unplugged’ set at the June 2001 Meltdown concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall (available on DVD, as well as Android and just-released-today Apple apps, as David Gilmour in Concert). He performed it several times again the following January when he returned to the same London venue for three nights before heading to Paris’ Palais des Congrès to do two more.
First performed in September 1863 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris, The Pearl Fishers was not greatly received and ran for just 18 performances. As is sadly so often the case, true appreciation came following Bizet’s sudden death in 1875 when the fickle press announced his brilliance.
I can’t pretend to be a fan of opera, but it seems like a good enough excuse to recall the times the genres of rock and classical have collided.
An obvious one is Metallica’s S&M, the band’s 1999 collaboration with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, directed by the late and much missed Michael Kamen.
Thirty years before it, though, Deep Purple released their Concerto for Group and Orchestra, composed entirely by the pioneering Jon Lord, performed live at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold. This was perhaps the first time rock musicians had been accompanied on stage by a full orchestra.
The Moody Blues’ second album, Days of Future Passed, released in 1967, is an orchestral song cycle about a typical working day (said to be a response to being asked by their record label to record an adaptation of Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony that would demonstrate their latest recording techniques) and a certain precursor to the prog-rock genre.
More recently, in 1992, they performed some of their best-known songs with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio, his collaboration with Carl Davis from 1991, was his first of five full-length classical albums.
Peter Gabriel released the purely orchestral New Blood in 2011; all but one track previously released, re-arranged for a symphony orchestra.
Also in 2011, the Pet Shop Boys composed music for their first ballet, The Most Incredible Thing, based on a Hans Christian Andersen story.
Not everyone approves of the crossover of high and popular culture, however. Here’s Philip Hensher in the Guardian arguing that “rock musicians might like the idea of an orchestra and a chorus, just as they might fancy putting on a dinner jacket, but the fact is that every single one of these ventures tends to sound the same: like a naff imitation of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, written by someone who once heard the piece on an advert for Old Spice.” Ouch.
Do you agree or even care what critics say? You either like the way something sounds or you don’t, and surely that’s all that really matters.
So whether you’re thinking specifically of rock musicians arranging their songs differently, the accompaniment of a symphony orchestra or choir, or the use of classical instruments in the making of any style of rock, I’d like to know which you’ve enjoyed and which you’ve chosen to pass on.
And if you are a fan of classical music, feel free to educate me.
Have a good weekend, everyone.