A new gen­er­a­tion is mar­ry­ing clas­si­cal har­mony and rock spirit.

Los Angeles Times - - Arts & Books - KEVIN BERGER RE­PORT­ING FROM NEW YORK

Re­cent for­ays into rock by Re­nee Flem­ing and clas­si­cal mu­sic by Sting have re­vived the spot­light on artists cross­ing from one mu­si­cal genre to an­other. But nei­ther opera em­press nor pop icon em­body cross­over mu­sic quite like 28year-old David Gar­rett.

In 2009 the fright­fully hand­some vi­o­lin­ist, a star in clas­si­cal mu­sic, hit the top of Bill­board’s Clas­si­cal Cross­over chart af­ter a glossy film of one of his con­certs — dur­ing which he, rock band and or­ches­tra raved-up songs by AC/DC and Michael Jack­son — was broad­cast on PBS sta­tions, in­clud­ing KCET.

On his new al­bum, “Rock Sym­phonies,” ac­com­pa­nied by a new PBS con­cert film, Gar­rett and his Stradi­var­ius hot-wire Beethoven’s Fifth and Vi­valdi’s “Four Sea­sons” as well as Guns N’ Roses’ “Novem­ber Rain” and Nir­vana’s “Smells Like Teen

‘We grew up lov­ing both clas­si­cal mu­sic and rock. They’re nat­u­rally part of our DNA, they co­ex­ist. Com­pos­ing for us is not cross­ing from one side to the other.’


Gar­rett is a cap­ti­vat­ing cham­pion of the right of rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic to share chords. Yet as he ca­reens around stages, arpeg­gios fly­ing from his fin­gers, he ex­poses cracks in a re­la­tion­ship that has been shaky from the days the Bos­ton Pops first fluffed up “Hey Jude.”

It’s of­ten painfully ap­par­ent that when rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic meet for a date, they have no chem­istry. To­gether, each is di­min­ished.

“You can’t put Halle Berry with Roger Fed­erer, ex­pect them to mate and have a su­per hu­man be­ing — it doesn’t work that way,” said Bramwell Tovey, mu­sic di­rec­tor of the Van­cou­ver Sym­phony Or­ches­tra and prin­ci­pal guest con­duc­tor of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic at the Hollywood Bowl, whose son Ben plays gui­tar in the heavy metal band Rise to Re­main. “Rock is an am­pli­fied world, clas­si­cal is an acous­tic one. An or­ches­tra is a very or­ganic thing. It can turn on a dime. Am­pli­fy­ing it, lock­ing it in­side a rock drum kit, can de­stroy it.”

Unit­ing pop and clas­si­cal mu­sic, though, doesn’t have to re­sult in a shadow of both worlds. Be­yond “popera” stars like Il Divo thrives a com­mu­nity of young com­posers, such as Wil­liam Brit­telle and Sarah Kirk­land Snider, who are con­join­ing gen­res to pro­duce cul­tur­ally elec­tric new mu­sic.

On a re­cent af­ter­noon in his New York City apart­ment, Gar­rett de­fended cross­over with the con­vic­tion of a young min­is­ter. It was hard not to sym­pa­thize with him. His pas­sion for rock is deep and true. Gar­rett grew up in Ger­many, where, Mozart style, the prodigy wowed clas­si­cal mu­sic fans. But he hated al­ways be­ing sur­rounded by old peo­ple. “I felt lost,” he said. “I wanted to be part of my own gen­er­a­tion and con­nect to the cul­ture and mu­sic around me.”

His Ger­man fa­ther, a lawyer, and Amer­i­can mother, a re­tired bal­let dancer, for­bade him to lis­ten to rock. So late at night in his room he donned head­phones and lis­tened to rock sta­tions. He loved Queen, but when he heard Nir­vana his whole world opened up. “I felt very close to the strug­gle of Kurt Cobain,” he said.

Gar­rett earned his kin­ship to Cobain, so ter­ri­bly haunted by his fame. In 1994, the year the lead singer of Nir­vana com­mit­ted sui­cide, the 13-year-old Gar­rett was bound to a record con­tract with Deutsche Gram­mophon and booked to con­certs for years to come.

In 1994, Martin Bern­heimer, then The Times’ clas­si­cal mu­sic critic, re­viewed Gar­rett’s per­for­mance of Mozart’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo No. 3 with the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic, Zu­bin Me­hta at the podium. The teenager “played Mozart with telling mas­tery of both score and style,” Bern­heimer wrote. “David Gar­rett. Re­mem­ber the name.”

— SARAH KIRK­LAND SNIDER, com­poser (right)

Gar­rett still plays Mozart with top sym­phony orches­tras, but he is proud to have made a new name for him­self. As a re­sult of his pop­u­lar cross­over shows, he said, he had be­gun see­ing more young peo­ple at his clas­si­cal con­certs. (He tours in­ter­na­tion­ally and will be per­form­ing in Los An­ge­les in Fe­bru­ary.)

“That’s the won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity I have as a young mu­si­cian — to use cross­over to con­nect with peo­ple and lead them to a mu­sic type they didn’t grow up with it,” he said. “Clas­si­cal mu­sic is won­der­ful, and once you have their at­ten­tion, they will fall in love.”

It’s a lovely sen­ti­ment, and clas­si­cal mu­sic can cer­tainly use all the lis­ten­ers it can get with­out gray hair. But it turns out “Live and Let Die” is not a gate­way to “The Rite of Spring.”

Cross­over has long been “seen as the fu­ture of au­di­ence devel­op­ment for clas­si­cal mu­sic,” said Deb­o­rah Borda, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic. “But you can­not re­motely prove it in any quan­ti­ta­tive or an­a­lyt­i­cal way.” Record com­pany ex­ec­u­tives who still claim cross­over is a savior of clas­si­cal mu­sic are proof, she added, “of why the record­ing in­dus­try is go­ing down the tubes.”

Jesse Rosen, pres­i­dent and CEO of the League of Amer­i­can Orches­tras, an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, agreed. “If you go back to the days of the Bos­ton Pops, the pops au­di­ence was al­ways com­pletely dif­fer­ent than the au­di­ence that came to the clas­si­cal sub­scrip­tion se­ries,” he said. But to­day, Rosen ex­plained, the di­vi­sion be­tween pop and clas­si­cal was van­ish­ing, and clas­si­cal mu­sic was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance on its own.

“We’re now see­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of com­posers who grew up in a ver­nac­u­lar world and are re­ject­ing the aca­demic strait­jacket that plagued ear­lier gen­er­a­tions of com­posers,” Rosen said. “It’s won­der­ful that com­posers are writ­ing in a way that takes in so much of the mu­si­cal lan­guage that runs through Amer­i­can life to­day.”

The L.A. Phil­har­monic re­flects this vi­tal­ity with its Green Um­brella new mu­sic se­ries and ven­ture­some pro­grams, such as one in Fe­bru­ary that fea­tured poly­math Brook­lyn rock­ers Dirty Pro­jec­tors.

At the heart of the new com­mu­nity of rock and clas­si­cal mu­sic is the Brook­lyn la­bel New Am­s­ter­dam, run by com­posers Brit­telle, Snider and Judd Green­stein. Re­cently, at a cafe near their Brook­lyn of­fice, the en­gag­ing Brit­telle, 33, and Snider, 36, de­scribed how their artis­tic lives were forged as much by Chopin as Ra­dio­head.

“What both­ered me about Re­nee Flem­ing’s re­cent ‘in­die rock’ al­bum is she seemed to be say­ing, ‘I do this one thing and now I’m go­ing to try on this very sep­a­rate thing,’ “ Snider said. “It was like she was try­ing on a new shirt. Whereas we grew up lov­ing both clas­si­cal mu­sic and rock. They’re nat­u­rally part of our DNA, they co­ex­ist. Com­pos­ing for us is not cross­ing from one side to the other. It’s just the way we hear mu­sic and the way we want it to go.”

Clas­si­cal mu­sic and rock blend in seam­less and fas­ci­nat­ing ways on new al­bums by Brit­telle and Snider.

Brit­telle called his new al­bum, “Tele­vi­sion Land­scape,” “my L.A. al­bum,” be­cause he wrote much of it while tem­po­rar­ily liv­ing in Los Feliz and read­ing Charles Bukowski. It evokes an earth­quake-weather mood along a painterly mu­si­cal land­scape of sear­ing rock, shaded by tonal pas­sages of strings and French horns, flutes and, in one emo­tional spot, a chil­dren’s choir. You might won­der if Jane’s Ad­dic­tion had dis­cov­ered the soul of De­bussy.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing ‘Tele­vi­sion Land­scape’ was en­tirely clas­si­cal,” Brit­telle said. “I’m think­ing about melody, har­mony and writ­ing down parts for ev­ery in­stru­ment. I want peo­ple to think about the mu­sic with thought­ful­ness and thor­ough­ness. I want to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties that other mu­sic of in­tel­lec­tual in­ter­est has, even though mine has gui­tar so­los.”

Snider’s al­bum, “Pene­lope,” due out this fall, is a cy­cle of haunt­ing art songs based on Homer’s “Odyssey.” Her mu­sic, beau­ti­fully sung by Shara War­den and ex­pertly played by Sig­nal, a cham­ber or­ches­tra, echoes the pierc­ing melan­choly of a Chopin noc­turne and spa­cious rhythms of min­i­mal­ism. Snaking out of the pas­toral back­drop are in­stantly hummable pop melodies.

Al­though, Snider ad­mit­ted, let­ting her pop in­flu­ences show didn’t come easy. She of­ten heard her clas­si­cal mu­sic pro­fes­sors in her head, scold­ing her. “I’m hear­ing them say, ‘You can’t bring in this four-bar cho­rus here!’ So I was con­stantly try­ing to tamp down my rock in­flu­ences.

But with ‘Pene­lope’ I didn’t feel like I had my teach­ers and crit­ics watch­ing. I didn’t feel like I was draw­ing from one camp or the other. The mu­sic felt like it all came from the same realm.”

As Snider and Brit­telle saw it, clas­si­cal artists didn’t need to cover rock songs to ex­cite young au­di­ences and echo the world around them.

“Peo­ple writ­ing the mu­sic of ‘now’ are un­plug­ging from all this mess about genre and just writ­ing from their hearts,” Brit­telle said. “It’s about be­ing hon­est to your in­flu­ences and al­low­ing your whole mu­si­cal world to be present in the mu­sic you cre­ate.”

“Clas­si­cal mu­sic is a con­tin­uum,” Snider said. “It’s ex­cit­ing to feel we’re part of that.”

Philipp Müller Decca La­bel Group

CHAM­PION: David Gar­rett mixes Beethoven with Kurt Cobain on “Rock Sym­phonies.”

Mu­rat Eyuboglu

EX­PLORER: “I want to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties that other mu­sic of in­tel­lec­tual in­ter­est has, even though mine has gui­tar so­los,” com­poser Wil­liam Brit­telle says.

Leonhard Foeger Reuters

ROCKIN’: “Once you have their at­ten­tion, they will fall in love” with clas­si­cal mu­sic, Gar­rett says.

Mu­rat Eyuboglu

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