Following in the footsteps of METALLICA, DEEP PURPLE and others,
From page 42 of Classic Rock Magazine September 2000
the SCORPIONS are the latest to jump on the rockmeets-classical bandwagon. Now CLASSIC ROCK looks at the history of this muchmaligned field to ask: is this the new 'Unplugged'? Your conductor: MICHAEL HEATLEY. hen you're late for your own after-show party because you've been "hanging with the Chancellor", then you're clearly more than just another band. German rock vets the Scorpions have been bosom buddies of their country's leader, Gerhard Schroeder, ever since he invited them to celebrate last year's 10th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's demolition with a reprise of their 'Glasnost' anthem, 'Wind Of Change'. But the wind that's blown into their music is an increasingly familiar one the Scorps now come with strings attached.
Metallica, of course, beat them to the punch by releasing their 'S Et M' (Symphony And Metallica) double set last November but the Germans had been planning their putsch for fully five years, they claim. And as singer Klaus Meine explains, it was the Berlin Wall show that finally pushed them over the edge into what he smilingly calls "crossoverland."
"We were looking at the project when we found Christian Kolonovits in Vienna and played his arrangement of 'Wind Of Change' at the Berlin Wall Gate. We performed that day with 160 cellists from all around the world, with Rostapovich conducting. Our hair stood on end, and we knew we were ready for this project. The key was Christian; he just hit our hearts with his arfangements, and there was suddenly a whole new dimension in the music." Interestingly, they'd originally approached Michael Kamen, orchestral wizard behind the Metallica project (and the man who co-wrote Bryan Adams' string-laden 'Everything I Do') to work on what would become 'Moment Of Glory: "We had meetings with Michael in Italy," reveals Meine, "went to his house and even wrote a song with him for this project. But Michael works very fast, as do the Metallica guys. They'd worked together before and, all of a sudden, bang there was the album."
The jilted Germans put on a brave face, reasoning that, since their goal was to premiere the music live this June in home-town Hanover as part of Expo 2000, being overtaken was • a minor annoyance.
"In a way, Metallica paved the way for us," says Meine. "I think there's a great potential, a huge audience out there that likes this kind of crossover, so the timing couldn't be better."
Mixing rock and the classics, of course, is nothing new. Back in 1968, Keith Emerson's preELP band The Nice had caused heartattacks among the Daily Telegraph set with their assault on Leonard Bernstein's 'America' (from the musical West Side Story) and got themselves banned from the Albert Hall in the process; burning the Stars and Stripes on stage as a Vietnam protest may also have had something to do with it. An enraged Bernstein took action to stop them releasing the track in the States as a single, so maybe it was as well that Emerson's next target was long-dead Russian composer Mussorgsky. 'Pictures At An Exhibition' wat his third release with Lake And Palmer in tow, yet record label Island were so scared that it wouldn't sell they released it in late 1971 at a budget price. It was certainly swimming against the tide; most classically trained young musicians of the time, like Curved Air's Darryl Way and Francis Monkman, preferred the freedom of rock to the straitjacket of orchestral music.
As ever, though, it was The Beatles who had been at the cutting edge as the 60s prepared to give way to the 70s. Strings had added a significant new dimension to their output from 'Sgt Pepper' onwards, producer George Martin having paved the way with 'Yesterday' and its string quartet.
Significantly, though, the Fab Four's major move into that field happened only after they'd bowed out of live performance, their act remaining the basic two guitars, bass and drums. The Bootleg Beatles' winter tour this year will see them tote a nine-piece string section round Britain will you tell them, or shall we?
W here The Beatles led, the Electric Light Orchestra soon followed then found out why 'I Am The Walrus' was never played on stage! Founder Roy Wood bailed out early on, highlighting a major problem as he did so. "Because the halls were big, and everybody used to turn up their electric instruments, the string players didn't have a chance; nobody could hear what they were playing."
Indeed, the early, Wood-era ELO sound awful on bootlegs, while, though Jeff Lynne's streamlined version used two cellists and a violin, most of the orchestral sounds came from either backing tapes (as was rumoured) or the keyboards of Richard Tandy and Louis Clark. Clark, incidentally, went on to inflict the gruesome 'Hooked On Classics' medleys on the singles chart a bastard child of cross-pollination that should have been strangled at birth.
When the Moody Blues went into Abbey Road studios in 1967, they intended to record a rock version of Dvorak's 'New World Symphony' music you'll recall from the Hovis lid on bike/cobbled streets' TV ad of 25 years ago.
Having persuaded their record company to fund an orchestra on the strength of this, Justin Hayward and chums emerged with 'Days Of Future Passed', a self-composed song cycle that included swathes of orchestral mood music linking the tracks. Any complaints from Decca were stifled when 'Nights In White Satin' spun off as a hit single an unlikely outcome from the original concept and the Moodies were off and running in a style light years away from their first big hit, 'Go Now Other symphonic rock bands of the late 60s/early 70s to boast an orchestral edge included Barclay James Harvest, King Crimson and Caravan and most of them faked it. Though the last-named had a bona fide viola player in Geoff Richardson, most others carried their strings around in the form of a Mellotron.
One of the most unreliable instruments known to man, this was a primitive early sampler whose keyboard activated tape-loops of real strings. Its great weight made it worthy of at least three roadies more if stairs were involved.
This common denominator made groups sound much of a muchness to the untrained (or unenthusiastic) ear, a fact cheekily underlined when the perennially under-rated BJH re-wrote 'Nights In White Satin' and titled it 'Poor Man's Moody Blues' as two fingers to their critics.
Using real orchestras tended to be restricted to one-off concerts, which could be recorded and sold as albums to defray expenses; Procol Harum's 'Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra', released on vinyl in 1972 but currently unavailable on CD, was one of the best.
Against all odds, too: the choir were amateurs, available only at night, and the orchestra cut short their run-through, obeying musicians' union rules on timekeeping (an extra hour was swiftly negotiated), resulting in a show that was woefully under-rehearsed.
Yet not only was it all right on the night, but the project gave Procol their first US hit album and a smash single in 'Conquistador'. Unfortunately, guitarist Dave Ball illustrated the problems of playing to a rehearsed score when he got carried away and one of his solos ended up crashing into a string arrangement; fortunately this ill-advised exercise in rock'n'roll 'spontaneity' could be corrected at the mixing stage.
Barclay James Harvest tried touring with strings but had to abandon the idea halfway through when the finances didn't add up. That expensive experience was shared by Emerson Lake And Palmer when, in 1977, they recruited a 70piece ensemble to accurately reproduce their album 'Works' in America. It most definitely did not work, and the orchestra was laid off a few dates into the 44-gig itinerary.
Unbelievably, it was cheaper to pay their wages for doing nothing than incur the massive overheads of carrying them and their equipment around North America.
The re-formed ELO Part 2 also suffered this way when they hired the 80-piece Moscow Symphony in 1991. The whole thing proved economically unviable, even at Eastern Bloc pay rates and, by the time they toured Australia to record 1997's live 'One Night' album, they'd drastically pared down their entourage.
"The leaders travelled with us and picked up the rest of the orchestra locally," bassist Kelly Groucutt revealed, reckoning it put a few more bums on seats in the form of friends and relations.
?There are those, though, who feel that orchestral 1 rock should remain an occasional treat. "'S Et M isn't something we'll take on the road and tour for years," said Metallica's Lars Ulrich. "To us, it's a special thing."
The Scorpions may yet beg to differ.
"We already have over 40 offers to play all across the US with different orchestras," Klaus Meine revealed the day after the Expo show. "I don't know if we should do it, or whether it's better to play with only the greatest Orchestras and play in LA, Chicago, and New York, the major cities."
At the time the ELO were in their pomp, the Scorps wouldn't have looked at a violin twice. Having made their name in the early 80s as purveyors of "high-energy speed-metal rock-outs," they turned their hand to ballads like 'Still Loving You' (from 84's 'Love At First Sting') which gave Meine the chance to prove he could be "a good singer not only a screamer."
From there, it was a small step to 'Wind of Change' and this current project.
Mindful of rock's dynamics, they were keen to mix strings and guitars to create excitement rather than the boredom of an orchestral background. Meine and guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Mathias Jabs worked in the studio to a Midi orchestra, in other words samples supplied by the arranger.
"That's the way it works the best," claimed the singer, "because a rock band plays dead on the point while an orchestra has a long 'breathe'. They did their parts and put it on our tracks, it would have been impossible to do the other way round, and when they played to us it became strong together."
So much for the mechanics but does it actually work? Certainly, 'Moment Of Glory' has its inspired moments where Kolonovits who conducted live in a funky leather tail-coat has really taken a track and added to it. Yet it's significant that the two weakest cuts by far are the obligatory pair of new songs. On 'Here In Your Heart', a Diane Warren-penned duet between Meine and Celine Dion soundalike Lyn Liechty, the strings are a saccharine accompaniment, while 'Moment Of Glory' itself features a kids' choir mouthing platitudes about the world belonging to the children a suitably bland theme to Expo 2000.
T he Berliner Philharmonik had all grown up with rock music, and could at least use similar projects as reference points. Yet there remains a resistance to rock's 'invasion' of the classical world, with the different expectations of their musicians and audiences. When, in 1969, Deep Purple first joined forces with the men in penguin suits for Jon Lord's pioneering 'Concerto For Group And Orchestra', Ian Gillan, himself an unbeliever, immediately smelt trouble.
"We only had a week to work with the orchestra, who seemed even less keen than we were," he later remarked.
The classically-trained Lord had been planning the project since his pre-Purple days with The Artwoods, and the management had gone ahead with it over the heads of the remaining members. The first rehearsal found those managers sitting in the Albert Hall stalls, heads in hands, as a female cellist stood up and shouted something about "not playing with second-rate Beatles."
Purple's saviour turned out to be the conductor Sir Malcolm Arnold. After another lacklustre attempt, he took matters into his own hands with what, Gillan claims, can only be described as "rock'n' roll language."
"You're supposed to be the finest orchestra in Britain, and you're playing like a bunch of cunts. Quite frankly, you're not fit to be on stage with these guys [indicating Purple], so pick yourself up and let's hear some bollocks. We're going to make history tonight, so we might as well make music while we're doing it." The result, better than anyone dared hope, paved the way for those who've followed a gaggle recently joined by eccentrics like Apocalyptica, a classically-tutored quartet from Finland whose 1998 album, 'Inquisition Symphony' contained covers of songs by the likes of Metallica, Faith No More, Pantera and Sepultura.
With the exception of opera, classical music is almost totally lyric-free so while Gillan penned the 'Concerto..: lyrics on the back of a napkin shortly before rehearsals began, the Scorpions brought a flight-case full of macho rock anthems to their project. The transsexual tale of 'He's A Woman, She's A Man' was sensibly performed as an instrumental, its title replaced by the generic 'Deadly Sting Suite'. 'Rock You Like A Hurricane' was also re-titled, 'Hurricane 2000' but when the song's, er, 'heady' subject-matter was revealed, a different kind of storm resulted. The Berliner Philharmonik's manager announced his resignation, while incoming conductor Sir Simon Rattle was quoted as being "horrified" at the idea. At which point The Guardian took an interest much to Meine's amusement.
"They said the Berliners have been connected to a lot of things but never to oral sex. And they put the lyrics of 'Hurricane' next to it. It was a huge article, and it cracked me up!"
Although any publicity's good publicity, he concedes there were a couple of other songs originally in the frame 'Bad Boys Running Wild' and 'Tease Me Please Me' that even he couldn't countenance. "I said that these might be cool riffs, but to go up on stage and sing these in the context of the Berliners didn't feel good to me."
Classical audiences, of course, aren't noted for doing more than sitting down and "rattling their jewellery", as John Lennon might have put it, and Meine freely admits experiencing an initial discomfiture at Expo 2000.
"We're used to playing places where people are standing in front of the stage going crazy and having a party, and this was totally different," he says.
"You see in the front rows all these powerful people and it's hard to believe they're going to rock. But I know many of them have a leather jacket in their closet from the old days! We knew we'd grab 'em by the balls..."
That's as maybe, but old habits die hard: fans were not allowed to stand until the invitation came from the stage, while some who had come all the way from Spain were forbidden to wave a banner, even though well away from camera shot.
It's not cheap hiring a top-flight orchestra. The Berliner Philharmonik charge recording fees of £65,000 per symphony, and the cost of scoring (writing the sheet music) for the number and variety of instruments involved is not inconsiderable. (The score for Deep Purple's 'Concerto..: disappeared after the original performance, and was only re-created through the endeavours of a student of the Amsterdam Conservatois Of Music, who studied freeze-frame moments from videos of the first Royal Albert Hall show. His efforts took an an entirely believable three years to complete.) But if there are costs involved in going classical, there's also a payback: the Scorpions funded 'Moment Of Glory' themselves, leasing it to EMI Classical, but the show they played to the German Chancellor and 10,000 others at Expo 2000 was also broadcast to four million viewers on a two-hour time delay; the result will doubtless emerge as a video.
Deep Purple have certainly learned that lesson. While their first 'Concerto..: had been filmed for broadcast by the Beeb's Omnibus series, last year's 30th Anniversary reprise was swiftly and efficiently packaged as a double CD, video and DVD.
Yet there's always the problem Klaus Meine acknowledges, that rock fans see orchestration as a sell-out.
"When you have a big hit you lose your basic fans; if everybody loves you it's a dangerous thing. In that sense, with this project we're even more established but I hope rock fans understand what we're doing. This has nothing to do with the establishment, this is about the joy of being musicians and the passion of music."
That passion extended itself to the coachload of EMI Classical employees who let their hair (or what was left of it) down at the post-reception gig attended by the concert's guest stars Zucchero and former Genesis frontman Ray Wilson.
A revelation of biblical proportions seemed to have seized these normally mild-mannered folk who moshed enthusiastically at the gig though whether their listening habits remained as broad when they returned, bleary-eyed, to Blighty the next day remains to be seen.
B ack in 1969, Deep Purple found the classical tag a double-edged sword. While the 'Concerto..: boosted their profile and thus the fees they could command, Gillan remembers arriving in
Folkestone shortly afterwards to find posters advertising the group as playing with a local Silver Band, the pairing organised by the local promoter. Needless to say, the posters didn't stay up for long once the mercurial Ritchie Blackmore found out The programme for the Albert Hall performance had mirrored the two separate worlds that then existed, an advert for the first UK screening of Easy Rider rubbing shoulders uneasily with another from the Young Conservatives. Inbetween them, Jon Lord took a paragraph or two to explain his intentions and motivations.
"The problem of putting together two widely different fields of music, 'classical' and 'beat' music (to label but a few) has interested me for a long time he said in his notes. "The idea is, then, simply to present, in the First Movement, the group and the orchestra as you would expect to hear them as antagonists, and in the Second and Third Movements, as unexpected allies."
It was a brave hope. At that time, rock and the classics were as likely to end up allies as Peter Fonda joining the Young Tories. Yet as we forge into the new millennium and such pairings become commonplace, there are those who have suggested using strings is 'the new Unplugged'.
Ironically, the Scorpions' record label East West, who passed on the orchestral project, have been chasing the cheaper Unplugged option for some years now. Klaus Meine doesn't rule it out, suggesting it might follow on from the next album, a return to electric rock. Reading between the lines, though, he'd like 'Moment Of Glory' to prove his record company wrong in their choice.
With rock and classical music having mingled for some three decades now, you'd have thought such 'mixed marriages' had lost the ability to get up certain people's noses.
Not so! The Daily Telegraph's venerable correspondent Norman Lebrecht recently added his contribution to the argument, bemoaning the fact that "The Scorpions, who share the ageing hippy circuit with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, can afford to book (such a prestigious) orchestra as aural wallpaper."
It was, he complained, "the ultimate triumph of alternative culture," concluding that "something noxious is about to erupt in your headspace."
Delighted, the band's publicity agent stole that fine phrase for their campaign.
And suddenly rock with strings attached didn't seem such a bad idea after all!
CLASSIC CD critic JEREMY POUND gives us the serious classical perspective.
G Ad reat Who songs with orchestras behind
them sound incredible," Roger Daltrey once told me. "The string orchestras basically take over from synthesisers and play synchopated parts. The whole thing then becomes mega, mega..."
Daltrey was talking in this case about The British Rock Symphony', released last year by Verve Records, in which songs by the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and others were performed relatively straight, but with an orchestral accompaniment. In this case, the combination of classical and rock performers was pretty successful, helped in no small part by the appearance of great British violinist Nigel Kennedy adding a virtuosic touch to George Harrison's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'.
'The British Rock Symphony' was not the first instance of rock or pop joining forces with classical, of course. More famous precendents included The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby', and, more recently, Massive Attack's brilliantly imaginative 'Unfinished Sympathy', with its plaintive, dissonant string orchestra accompaniment. Proof that, at its very best, the rock-meets-classical combo can work.
Sadly, though, for every 'Eleanor Rigby' there have been no end of howlers. Take, for instance, Michael Bolton's assault on Puccini Arias of two years ago. Had the great Italian operettist ever had an inkling that his greatest moments from 'La Boheme' and 'Tosca' would be so tortured by Bolton's sheepthat's-swallowed-a-razorblade tones, he would have surely chucked all his manuscript paper on the fire unused, settling instead for a life drinking chianti on the terrace of his Tuscan villa.
Nor, in turn, would Freddie Mercury have been in rhapsodies, bohemian or otherwise, if he'd ever had the misfortune to hear some of his best songs subjected to symphonic rock treatment by the London Symphony Orchestra.
Both rock and classical musicians, then, are equally capable of massacring each other's music when left entirely to their own devices. But what about the occasions when classical and rock ensembles perform together? Well, let's see...
Metallica's 'S & M' (*****), recored live at the Berkeley Community Theater, California in April last year, strikes me as a bit of a waste of time. I cannot really see why they bothered to recruit the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra for songs which gain so little from having an orchestral accompaniment. Mettallica's use of harmony is, to be frank, a tad unimaginative. As a result, as each song grinds relentlessly on to the next, the SFSO seem to scrabble around ever more desperately, vainly trying to find different ways to treat the three chords given to them. Metallica themselves carry on regardless, probably enjoying the slightly broader sound that an orchestral accompaniment provides, but certainly not making any real attempt to find any sort of musical empathy with their classical counterparts a partnership this most certainly is not. That said, the whole shebang was probably a highly memorable experience for conductor Michael Kamen and the SFSO, who are not normally the benificiaries of stadium-sized audiences.
Scorpions, in securing the services of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for their 'Moment Of Glory' (*****) immediately get one over on Metallica.
The BP0 are, quite simply the most prestigious orchestra in the entire world there was dancing in the British classical music streets when Blighty's own Sir Simon Rattle was appointed its chief conductor last year.
In due deference, the Scorpions give far more of the spotlight to the world's top classical outfit than do Metallica to the SFSO. In 'Crossfire', for instance, we have six minutes of what I guess could best be described as 'orchestral-meets-guitar jamming' it's great fun. At its best, the Scorpions sound undoubtedly benefits from a touch of orchestral oomph, too. However, several moments had me reaching for the fast forward button, not least the horribly twee orchestral opening to 'Wind Of Change' (which reminded me all too much of Miinchen Freiheit's 'Keeping The Dream Alive'). A shame it's so nearly an excellent disc.
While classical 'crossover' may be something new to the Berlin Phil, it's been part of the London Symphony Orchestra's repertoire for some time now. Though, as mentioned previously, their symphonic rock efforts should have had them sent down for musical assault, the double-disc live recording of their Albert Hall concert with Deep Purple (*****) proves a very convincing argument for early parole. Deep Purple's keyboardist Jon Lord was a student of the Royal College of Music and his 1968 composition, 'Concerto For Group and Orchestra', benefitted from a little advice from leading British composer, Malcolm Arnold. It's a long work, and occasionally a touch self-indulgent, but worth getting to know nonetheless. Of the 14 songs also on the album, Lord's 'Pictured Within' and 'Wait A While' are the ones best suited to an orchestral setting. With its gloriously lush harmonies and incredibly lucid recorded sound, 'Wait A While' is the musical equivalent of a luxurious swim in a moonlit tropical pool. Deep Purple turns Deep Aquamarine.
Like Lord, guitarist Yngwie Malmstein has also penned a concerto, namely his 'Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar And Orchestra In E Flat Minor Op.1' (*****). If you're searching for an introduction to classical music through a rock medium, this is as good as any place to start.
Malmstein's work is not particularly original, but he certainly knows his classical sources and isn't afraid to use them. One supper-time listening alone revealed glimpses of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Albinoni's Adagio and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A second hearing over a late-night dram of Laphroaig brought touches of Mozart, Handel, Vivaldi and even Tchaikovsky. Self-styled classical 'purists' will complain that it's just a load of pastiche with electric guitar virtuoso on top. Those at the rock end of the purity scale, meanwhile, will probably (and possibly rightly) say that this sort classical mish-mash has nothing to do with them. Sod the purists, I say. I liked it.
The likes of Malmstein, though, are not here to stay once this sort of thing has been done once, it doesn't bear repeating too often. Orchestral enhancements of pop songs, however, almost certainly are going to be sticking around for a while. In these days of digital recording, surround sound and the like, when a classic rock song is wellarranged, well performed and well produced it really can, as Daltrey says, sound "mega."
V1 y ngwie J. Malmsteen is more qualified than most to pass comment on the classical-meets-rock debate, having long insisted on his roots in the genre, even releasing his own symphony last year with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra the grandiosely titled 'Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar And Orchestra In E Flat Minor Op.1' for which he was billed as Yngwie Johan (as in Bach) Malmsteen.
"Actually, it's not a symphony," he corrects with a slight huff. "In pure classical terms, it's a concerto suite because a concerto usually has three movements, and mine has 11 which makes it a suite.
"Now everybody seems to be doing something with a symphony orchestra. That to me has nothing to do with classical music — absolutely nothing!" he insists with all his usual subtlety. "What they're doing is simply an embellishment on the same tonalities, melodies and arrangements that already exist on the electric guitar. I've heard a few cuts from Metallica's album, it sounds good, and I don't wanna knock it but it's not gonna bring rock and classical music any closer. It's like bands that use a gospel choir on one track. Does that make them a gospel band?"
Although the Scorpions claim to have had the idea years ago, when a band like them gets in on the act isn't it in danger of becoming a trend? Symphonic rock... the new 'Unplugged'?
"Yeah, maybe. I certainly prefer it to the whole unplugged thing, which was terrible. It made everything sound so weak. I haven't heard the Scorpions' album, but I'm sure it could be great because they've got enough good ballads.
"But I didn't do what all these other bands are doing," he insists. "All I did was replace the solos, whether it was violins, flutes or whatever, with electric guitar. I composed something specifically In that manner instead of just adding an orchestra to my stuff." Malmsteen is already working on a follow-up and plans to play the original version live next year with the Japanese Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, where the album went to No. 1.
He did it in the first place because, "besides Deep Purple and all those guys, my ultimate heroes are Johann Sebastian Bach, Paganini, Handel and Vivaldi. I have busts and paintings of them everywhere in my house, I even named by son Antonio after Antonio Vivaldi."
Malmsteen says that he was "absolutely flabbergasted" at the positive response he claims to have received for his 'suite' from the "difficult to penetrate" classical world.
"In the States there are radio stations that play purely classical, there's one I have my car tuned into, and they play my music," he says proudly.
"The guy at the Conservatory Of Music in New York told me that I'd made an album that some of their students of 15 years couldn't make."
Nevertheless, working with the Prague Philharmonic, a 90-piece orchestra with a 60-piece choir, was an unusual experience.
"At the start I was very nervous and had to say to the conductor, 'They don't play it very well', but he said not to worry.
"Then during the lunch break the whole orchestra went into this little bar downstairs and began pounding the pints. Listen, I like to drink beer as much as the next guy, but I was furious — my life was on the line here. But after all that drinking everybody played the thing perfectly!"