CPO’s evening of Brahms v. Radiohead seeks to artfully combine the worlds of classical and popular music

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is no stranger to contemporary classical music. With the appointment of Vincent Ho as their New Music Advisor, and Rune Bergmann as their new Music Director in 2016, the CPO has shown tremendous initiative to take a more contemporary approach to their programming. The programming Saturday, March 9 is no exception, when your Calgary Phil will be performing Brahms v. Radiohead, an innovative synthesis of Brahms’ masterful Symphony No. 1 and Radiohead’s legendary album, OK Computer.

Arranger and conductor, Steve Hackman is the mastermind behind the Brahms v. Radiohead project, as well as other similar productions (Tchaikovsky v. Drake, Beethoven v. Coldplay), and describes the work as, “an amazing process of analysis, discovery, de- and re-construction, and re-creation.” Hackman’s work pushes the envelope of what is possible and permissible in classical and popular music, with eight OK Computer songs being superimposed over movements from Symphony No. 1.

“I’ve always pursued both classical music and popular music in parallel, and I just felt compelled to make music that was representative of my ideals and my musical journey,” says Hackman of the inspiration behind this project. “It was always in my mind, even when I was studying in school, that it would be wonderful to find a way to combine these, and bring the audience together to show the similarities in the music and celebrate what this music has in common, and not to try to criticize one or the other based on some sort of categorical label.”

There is a growing trend in the classical music world of retouching, reworking, and reimagining classical masterpieces with modern and contemporary techniques in order to reclaim and rediscover well-known music through a new lens. With composers and sound artists like Max Richter and Wendy Carlos recomposing Baroque works like Bach and Vivaldi, this revolutionizes what we call contemporary classical music.

When asked about this shift in contemporary classical music, Hackman notes that, “repurposing and appropriation in art is obviously nothing new. The world is changing and the music landscape is changing. Our access to everything instantly is changing listeners and changing the way we make music because we can easily switch from Chopin to Kendrick Lamar back to Miles Davis.”

Because of the immediacy of music, we don’t even have to leave our homes to access great music, but Hackman feels that seeing Brahms v. Radiohead is going to be an exceptional and life-life-changing experience that any classical or popular music lover won’t want to miss. “First of all, just to hear a virtuosic group of musicians like the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra playing live in concert is an experience by itself,” he explains. “Then you go up a level, and take Brahms 1st Symphony, which is one of the greatest Classical pieces ever written, but also one of the greatest pieces of music, and the transcendence of that piece, and the emotional journey of the piece. And then finally, you combine it with Radiohead and the music of today. I see Brahms v. Radiohead as very much a new original composition, exploring how to take advantage of all the stylistic and technical facets that each work offers.”

He continues. “We live in a time where art doesn’t have to be binary. You don’t have to like either classical music or popular music, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. There isn’t a more essential time than right now for us to experience live music and to disconnect for 60 minutes, to follow a musical narrative, to open our minds and our body and soul, and let ourselves be moved or taken somewhere. I just think there are new listeners out there, and I’m making it my mission to get that very large section of the population into the concert hall.”

I think you might be one of those listeners. You may not become a CPO season subscriber, and that’s OK. Heck, you might not even like Brahms or Radiohead, and that’s OK, too. But, you might come on Saturday and be blown away.

(Photo of Steve Hackman courtesy the CPO.)

Calgary Philharmonic presents: Brahms v. Radiohead takes place on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jack Singer Concert Hall.

Simon MacLeod wears many hats in the Calgary arts community, as an enthusiast for contemporary performance in any discipline, and arts and culture manager for a number of local nonprofit arts groups.