INTERVIEW: Classical Meets Contemporary, Yet Again

Denver, COLORADO – The Colorado Symphony needs no introduction. It is considered by many to be one of the top symphonies in the United States, and is known for its brilliant collaborations with contemporary artists.

Tonight, the symphony’s 70 plus members will share the stage with a few new musicians, better known as the musical outfit Guster.

Understanding the history this symphony has performing with high-profile contemporary artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Trey Anastasio and DeVotchKa, just to name a few, Fishbowl Records contacted Anthony Pierce, Resident of Artist Administration for the CS, in order to get the low down for this upcoming show.

FR: Guster. How did this concert come into fruition? Did you guys approach them, vice versa or was is kind of a mutual thing?

 AP: I’ve been a big fan of Guster for a long time. I first approached them 14 months ago. They had a gig at the Ogden, so I got in contact with Nettwerk Management, who represents them, and pitched the idea. Initially, they were like, ‘Alright, that sounds cool. Let us think about it.’ Well, I ended up going to the show and meeting the band back stage and asked them what they thought about the idea. I told them how amazing it would be to have 60-70 players augmenting the band. The guys were really cool about it and were very receptive, but asked if we’d (CS) be writing the charts for the show.

I mentioned a guy who I’d worked with in the back in Charleston, SC., named Jay Clifford (formerly with Jump Little Children). It turned out Jay actually use to tour with Guster, so he knew those guys. They (Guster) were like, ‘Hey man, we like Jay. He knows our aesthetic better than anyone else you could hire.” So, it made sense that these guys would be working together.

FR: When you secure a performance with a group, what’s the response like from the symphony members?

AP: They love it. It gives people opportunities that’ve never seen the orchestra to experience what it’s like. The musicians love it. This orchestra has done a good job of building a reputation of doing this well (collaboration with contemporary artists). It’s a very unique thing for Colorado and us.

FR: A writer from Fishbowl recently attended the Trey Anastaio performance, strictly for pleasure. He said it was incredible. Can we expect the same for Guster?

AP: I think it’s going to be awesome. The charts have been written. It’s over 20 tunes, including an opening and a finale. Guster can kind of use this concert as an opportunity to go back through their songbook, and put together a setlist that includes some B-Side tracks, along with all of the hits. It’s a very diverse setlist. There are a lot of people coming from out-of-state to see this gig, just because it’s a unique way to see Guster. We’ve got some things up our sleeves to make it special for the patrons and fans attending. Music lovers are really in for a special evening.

FR: How long do groups and the symphony typically rehearse before a performance like this? I imagine a lot of work goes into it. Learning group’s songs, forming chemistry.

AP: Preparation in advance is critical. Jay started working on the charts in January. And he’s been doing this along time, so when they arrived in Colorado, they showed up in good shape. Scott O’Neil, Resident Conductor, has had the scores for several weeks and has been reviewing them; going over the ranges to make sure they’re accurate for each instrument. The players go through all of their stuff individually even before they rehearse with Guster (for five hours).

It’s important to have fun people to work with – and these guys are exactly that. The members of the symphony, along with Guster, have been honing their craft for years and years.

FR: DeVotchka, Trey and now Guster – Is rock/alternative the only genre the symphony plans on exploring collaborations with?

AP: I’m open to anything that’s going to resonate the community. You know, there’s a unique appetite for jam bands here in Colorado, which is why the Trey thing made absolute, perfect sense. DeVotchKa is a cult-Colorado based band, so that made a whole lot of sense as well – we sold every ticket and even added an additional performance because it resonated with the community so well.

Next year we have Bela Fleck and Chris Thile coming, so that’s kind of Bluegrass/Folk. We also have the Preservation Hall Jazz Band coming in February, so that’s something different as well.

FR: Any upcoming shows you can hint on that may be in the works?

AP: I’ve got a wish list of artist I’d love to have play with the orchestra. Sarah was one –her music just lends itself to orchestration, and proved so in the performance. I’d love to have Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The mixture of Welch’s gorgeous bluegrass/folk voice, along with Rawlings guitar, which so good it’s like he sold his soul to the devil, would lend itself to orchestration so well, in my opinion. Maybe that’s in the pipeline.

We’ve got some creative things up our sleeve that I’m not sure we’re ready to announce. On the classical side of things we have collaboration with the Denver Art Museum next year. They have a massive Van Gough exhibit coming to town, which includes 70 works from his time in Paris. We’re going to kind of tie one of our master works to the program. In a couple of weeks we have a performance with a local dance company, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance. It’s a Romeo & Juliet performance, so it should be fantastic.

There are some irons in the fire that are cool. In a way, I’m kind of spoiled having this job in Colorado ‘cause there’ such a unique appetite for music here. There’s a lot of potential for us to do creative things.

This article was originally published on on March 8, 2012.