It began in 1969 with the Concerto for Group and Orchestra by Jon Lord, the classically-trained organist for Deep Purple, and reached a peak in 1996 with the Piano Concerto by Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (who also rocked up classical favorites like “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Pictures at an Exhibition”). Through efforts by folks like Sir Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello and several members of Genesis, we’ve seen a number of rockers trying their hands at writing “classical” music. But in just the last couple of years there’s been almost a mini-explosion of music by classic rockers trying out their classical chops in longer and more complex forms.
Ben Folds, leader of the Ben Folds Five and former judge on “The Sing-Off,” has been touring for the last two years with a Piano Concerto he wrote on commission from the Nashville Symphony (he is also on the Symphony’s Board of Directors). Just this month Mike Mills, bassist for R.E.M., released the premiere recording of a Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra that he co-wrote with his childhood friend, violinist Robert McDuffie (critic Allan Kozinn gave it a mixed review in the Wall Street Journal). Jon Anderson, long-time lead singer for Yes, has collaborated on a Guitar Concerto with 20-year-old prodigy Andrew Rubin.
And closer to home, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra has just released a CD of ballet music by C.F. Kip Winger, former bassist and singer for the 90’s pop-metal band of the same name (their hits included “Seventeen” and “Headed for a Heartbreak”). It’s called “Conversations with Nijinsky” and features works written for the San Francisco Ballet and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
We hear from lots of KDFC listeners who have branched out from rock to Bach later in life, so I guess it’s inevitable that their former pop idols would do the same. But does this mean we can look forward to “Don Giovanni” re-written by Alice Cooper? Or Metallica’s “Symphonie fantastique”? Or maybe “Symphonies for the Kinks’ Supper”? What classical work would you like (or not) to see updated by a classic rocker?