Spotlight on SWFL Symphony
Bringing the buzz back to Beethoven
We all have a good idea of what it means when we say that a piece of music is “classical.” But when we start to really consider the term “classical music” and exactly what that label means, we find that it quickly shows itself to be an artificial category—encompassing multiple centuries of Western music of different genres, written in innumerable and disparate musical styles—so as to become virtually meaningless.
Yet the term is also, paradoxically, a limiting one. It pointedly excludes certain kinds of music that may have been pigeon-holed into their own constricting categories.
This serves as a cautionary prelude to considering composer Steve Hackman’s production titled “Beethoven v. Coldplay.” It will be presented by the Southwest Florida Symphony at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers on Satur- day, May 4, at 7:30 p.m., with the composer at the podium.
In Hackman’s piece, Beethoven’s third symphony ( Eroica, composed in 1803-1804) and the music of the British rock band Coldplay become what at first may seem to be strange bedfellows. Hackman weaves Coldplay’s lyrics and melodies into the symphony via a trio of miked vocal soloists, combining the musical strands to provide a kind of dialogue and commentary on Beethoven’s original score.
Notably, the lyrics chosen by Hackman from different Coldplay songs serve as a reflection of the struggles Beethoven was enduring in his personal life around the time Eroica was composed. Sung lines such as “Nobody said it was easy” and “When you lose something you can’t replace ... could it be worse?,” speak to Beethoven’s misunderstood genius as well as the tragedy of his gradual hearing loss, which eventually led to total deafness.
If the idea of combining the music of Beethoven and Coldplay seems a radical one, the result of Hackman’s creative undertaking is essentially an oratorio that leaves Beethoven’s beloved symphony largely intact, but enhanced by the Coldplay interpolations. Indeed, unless you are deeply familiar with the music of the symphony, you will not easily notice exactly where and how the score has been altered in order to accommodate Coldplay’s lyrics, which themselves are rearranged to meld more seamlessly with Beethoven’s original.
As Hackman points out, “I use the words hybrid, fusion and synthesis … this is about taking the Coldplay and distilling the sound into the musical elements that are represented on their recordings by electric guitars, keyboards and drums, etc., but then re-translating those musical elements through Beethoven’s lens.”
Hackman, a classically trained pianist, composer and conductor, also possesses popular music credentials as an accomplished producer, arranger, songwriter, rapper and disc jockey. He views “Beethoven v. Coldplay” as “a representation of my journey through all of these different genres, processes and disciplines. I take my cues from the greats when it comes to that, whether it’s Mahler or The Beatles or Kendrick Lamar.
“I mean all the people that have learned disparate disciplines, that are supposedly from different ‘genres’ artistically, then combined them to make something beautiful and unique ... I know I am a disrupter because of what I have felt and what I have been up against. But then on the other hand I know this is not revolutionary whatsoever to be combining popular idioms with art music, because it has been happening all along.”
So while Hackman’s work reflects longstanding musical traditions, he also seeks to break boundaries with his unique artistic voice, expressed through hybrid musical works that endeavor to push our collective musical experiences into the unknown. And as Hackman points out, there’s no reason why Beethoven shouldn’t be a part of that.
“The Eroica symphony is not going anywhere so long as we continue to think and strategize on how to present it in the 21st century. And that doesn’t mean it has to have Coldplay in it. That just happens to be one take on it.”
Hackman weaves Coldplay’s lyrics and melodies into the symphony via a trio of miked vocal soloists, combining the musical strands to provide a kind of dialogue and commentary on Beethoven’s original score.
The Southwest Florida Symphony, whose bass section is featured here, will present composer/arranger Steve Hackman’s production titled “Beethoven v. Coldplay” at the Barbara B. Mann P erforming Arts Hall in Fort Myers on May 4.
From top: SWFL Symphony’s oboe and flute section; composer and conductor Steve Hackman in action, and the symphony’s clarinet section