Two things you need to know about “Genre Hopping”

music-genres2Rock. Country. Blues. Classical. We tend to feel like we need to fit musical creations into one specific genre in order for us to understand where it belongs in the music world. But what if we took these barriers down? Does a musical work need to be composed to “fit” one of these genres? Is there a genre that includes two genres of music? How about three…four…fivesixseven – our heads are going to explode!

The cross-pollination of different musical categories is still a relatively new concept for music listeners, until you realize it’s been going on for quite some time. Classical music has a habit of getting slotted into an elitist and untouchable corner where only musical academics are allowed to “adequately” enjoy it. Perhaps this is because classical music is the oldest musical genre and thought to be a treasure trove of masterpieces that has been 500 years in the making. But when you listen to musicians like 2Cellos, Frank Zappa, The Piano Guys, Yo-Yo Ma and Emerson, Lake and Palmer (and loads more you can find here), you realize this concept isn’t so scary and can be downright enjoyable. We just see the same piece of music re-imagined in a new light.

So here are two things you need to know about cross-genre music.

1. Rock did it first, but Classical is doing it too.


Emerson, Lake & Palmer

There’s been an urge from musicians across all genres to break down these barriers for quite some time. Classical music has only recently expanded its reach from its own sub-types to other contemporary styles, unlike popular progressive rock bands in the 70s who made the leap quite a bit earlier.

Originally a blues band, British rock group Jethro Tull didn’t reach their pinnacle of fame until they began to create more ambitious sound by incorporating elements of jazz, folk and classical music, making the band’s genre uncategorizeable at the time. Emerson, Lake and Palmer covered Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and Hoedown by using instrumentation to re-contextualize these classical pieces for rock fans. The 90s Icelandic band Sigor Ros goes beyond incorporating stylistic nuances of classical music by having Jón Þór Birgisson play bowed guitar.

Classical musicians are conversely bridging the gap too. Yo-Yo Ma released “Appalachian Journey,” an album that throws the cello into music devoted to old misty mountain songs. 2Cellos and The Piano Guys have gone viral with their popular covers of Disney and Mumford & Sons songs. And Punch Brothers have taken the mandolin and given it a good old southern twang.

The bottom line is we like to hear things we know presented in a new way. BUT we’re not always open to hearing something outside our comfort zones.

The next point should address this issue.

2. Audiences need to open up a little. 

Punch Brothers

Punch Brothers

On the flip side, audiences also need to be more open to these experiences. “I don’t think classical musicians are any more reserved on average than non-classical musicians, but it’s actually the audiences that are far more reserved” says Chris Thile from classical/bluegrass band Punch Brothers. “I do think it’s important that people who profess to really be interested in music to expose themselves to the width and breadth of the great music that’s available to them – and that’s everything.”

Once you listen to cross genre collaborations, it becomes clear there is JUST a stylistic and ascetic approach to playing a piece of music. So continue to enjoy the genre you have an affinity with, but also get ready to be wowed by an artist out of your musical genre purview who might just blow you away.

That being said, get ready for Supercrawl next week when HPO Strings take the stage with Thought Beneath Film for an unforgettable collaboration of rock music re-imagined through the orchestral lens.

Musicians perform on Saturday, September 13 at 6:15 on the TD-Arkells Stage (James Street North at Wilson).

Watch Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile talk about “genre hopping” while he serenades you with his mandolin.


Owen Pallett: Reinterpreting the Orchestral Genre

OWEN PALLETTCongratulations to Owen Pallett for making the shortlist for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize! Pallett seems to be all over the headlines these days. Who knew a young University of Toronto graduate from Mississauga could experience such heights of international orchestral fame?

With one Polaris Prize under his belt from the 2006 album He Poos Clouds, Pallett has chosen an unconventional career for a modern classical composer and dived head first into vast regions unknown to the pop and video game music worlds. In turn, he’s brought new waves of modern orchestration to the centre of the public stage.

Pallett devoted a large portion of his career to writing music inspired by video games. Under the pseudonym “Final Fantasy,” Pallett wrote the song “An Arrow in the Side of Final Fantasy” which integrates the familiar tune from “Super Mario 2: 6 Golden Coins.” He also composed a tribute album entitled Heartland to the famous video game series Final Fantasy. You can hear HPO’s trumpet lead Mike Fedyshyn and David Pell principal trombone this album.

Pallett rehearsing his "Violin Concerto" for the TSO's New Creation Festival

Pallett rehearsing his “Violin Concerto” for the TSO’s New Creations Festival

Pallett’s chamber/pop album He Poos Clouds won the 2006 Polaris Music Prize and references the eight schools of magic in the fantasy and role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. He kindly donated winnings to bands he deemed deserving of a monetary leg up in the music business. HPO principal second violinist Bethany Bergman was also in the orchestra ensemble for Pallett’s album.

Indie/rock band Arcade Fire have also turned their eyes toward Pallett’s talent as he provides the band’s string arrangements. He’s even played violin with the Grammy winning group. In addition, his work with Arcade Fire on “The Moon Song” for the film Her garnered an Oscar nomination at the 2013 Academy Awards.

Arctic Monkeys’ front-man Alex Turner and The Rascals’ Miles Kane had Pallett create the orchestration and conduct the London Metropolitan Orchestra for their supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. He also contributed remixes for bands Stars, Grizzly Bears and Death from Above 1979.

Pallett still composes for large orchestras, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra and London Barbican commissioned his Violin Concerto as part of TSO’s week long 2013 New Creations Festival. He also provided a dynamic arrangement of Basia Bulat’s music that that highlighted the best of our very own orchestra. Bulat was also shortlisted for the Polaris Prize this year.

Side-note: check out Owen Pallett’s arrangement of Basia Bulat’s music here:

Pallett isn’t the only one doing exciting duos with indie groups! We’ve had unique collaborations with C.R. Avery and Hachey the MouthPEACE over the years and are thrilled to continue to perform with independent local artists like Thought Beneath Film at Supercrawl in September.

Take a look back at our performance with C.R. Avery at Supercrawl in 2012:

Here’s a look at Owen Pallett’s performance of “He Poos Clouds” with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra:

owen pallett video

Celebrating Pride with Tchaikovsky


Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (photo from Americanblog)

As Hamilton and the GTA ramp up for World Pride this week, we thought what better time to revisit the life of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The shock that homosexuality has been inherent throughout history is slowly dissipating with the help of modern history dramas that favour gay narratives, yet our society is still surprised to discover some of our most celebrated historical figures were gay. Nineteenth-century composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky surrounded himself with supportive friends and family members. These loved ones helped the composer navigate the social customs and sexual expectations of his era.  His brother Modest, who was also openly gay, was his closest confidant and later biographer. Tchaikovsky came from a small household and naturally wanted to meet his father’s expectations.  This meant confirming to the idealistic lifestyle of a prosperous young man by becoming well educated, attaining good social standing and finding a suitable wife. The School of Jurisprudence, an all-boy school, is where historians suspect the Russian composer began to realize his sexual inclinations. His classmate Aleksey Apukhtin later introduced him to the homosexual subculture of St. Petersburg society which further fostered his sexuality. He was undaunted by his sexual discoveries and believed he would have no issue leading a double life as a husband and gay lover.

Iosif Kotek with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1877

Iosif Kotek with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1877

While Tchaikovsky is labeled by historians as homosexual, he did fall in love with the famous opera diva Désirée Artôt.  This could have been a result of his father’s unwavering expectation that Tchaikovsky should marry. The couple became engaged – but Désirée unexpectedly eloped with a Spanish baritone. Tchaikovsky was crushed. Following the failed engagement, Tchaikovsky wrote letters to Modest that he had male interests at the time, one of which was his student Eduard Zak who is thought to have been the muse behind Romeo and Juliet. His student later committed suicide after suffering a series of tragic events. Tchaikovsky expressed his love and deep loss over the young man’s death in later writings. The hope of maintaining a platonic marriage while pursuing other male lovers proved to be an impossible plan. Tchaikovsky impulsively married Antonina Milyukova, a student who wrote many passionate love letters, but began to experience almost immediate regret towards the end of the wedding day. Within weeks, Tchaikovsky attempted to drown himself in the Moscow River and two months after the wedding, left his wife and withdrew to St. Petersburg. He wrote to his brother Anatoly that “there is nothing more futile than wanting to be anything other than what I am by nature.” However, this forced social conformation enhanced rather than hindered Tchaikovsky’s artistic achievements. During his recovery period in Switzerland following the disastrous marriage, he produced his Fourth Symphony and the opera Eugene Onegin –two of his most beloved works.

Matthew Bourne’s version of Tchaikovsky’s

Matthew Bourne’s version of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”

After this period, Tchaikovsky avoided the company of women and began a discreet relationship with his servant Alyosha Sofronov as well as on and off relationships with other men, such as violinist Iosif Kotek. There is much debate with regards to the composer’s relationship with his nephew Bob Davydov and the depths of intimacy they shared. Yet, novelist E.M. Forster wrote in his  love story Maurice that “Tchaikovsky had fallen in love with his own nephew, and dedicated his masterpiece [Symphonie Pathetique] to him.”  Sidenote: You can hear this symphony performed by the HPO in January 2015. The composer remained withdrawn from Russian society and traveled through Europe, hardly staying in one place for more than a few months, until his death. Tchaikovsky’s life story remains inspiring in the orchestral world and the LGBTQ community. In fact, Matthew Bourne addresses issues in relation to contemporary society through his modern version of Swan Lake in Tel Aviv. Check out a clip of the production here:

Celebrate Summer in Symphonic Style


13-IMG_5541-1Thursdays are tough around the office. The sun is shining, it’s warm outside and the weekend can’t come fast enough! Good thing summer is just around the corner. hpoGo is celebrating summer on the rooftop of Radius on Thursday, June 26 from 5 – 9pm.

Come on down after work and join the hpoGO Patio Party, and imbibe some specialty appetizers and drinks. You’ll enjoy some of Radius’ delicious and locally sourced menu items over Hamilton’s downtown rooftop vista.

Be sure to grab a drink and chat with some HPO musicians before and after their live performance in the evening. There will be a 20 minute violin and viola duet along with an up and close demonstration with the string instruments.

This is a great opportunity to meet new people, enjoy the weather and meet fellow arts supporters.

Get your tickets here.