Thankfully, when it comes to the Pacific Symphony, we can finally talk about the music. It was touch and go for a while though. As recently as September, the labor disputes over musicians’ contracts at the Pacific Symphony were ongoing, Gabriel San Roman writing that a lack of guaranteed income for the performing musicians was the stumbling block.
"Over the years, our own performances have helped grow the orchestra to where it is right now," Adam Neeley, a violinist and Chair of the Musicians' Bargaining Committee, told us at the time. "What we are asking for is stability and predictability of income, but it's more than about the money."
Fortunately, a resolution was reached in October, though not quite in time for the start of the fall season in September. But still, no strike action was necessary, and the fall, winter, and spring seasons all rolled on without a hitch. The summer season started with a Fourth of July show, and now things are really heating up because, this week, the Pacific Symphony will perform with Kenny Loggins of “Footloose” fame. On July 20, the Symphony will perform with new wavers The B-52s.
It’s not a new or unusual thing for rock ‘n’ rollers to collaborate with an orchestra. Deep Purple, Metallica and Kiss have all released orchestral albums, while groups such as Jethro Tull regularly take that route live. Kenny Loggins himself is familiar with the concept, although it’s relatively new to The B-52s. One might imagine that team-ups like that would inspire new people to check out the Symphony during its regular schedule, but John Forsyte, president of the Pacific Symphony, says that’s not necessarily the case.
“I think of it as really a completely different segment people,” he says. “Ideally, it would be great if they would embrace the Symphony, but we find that we’ve cultivated a distinctive audience that come to appreciate that the sound of a full symphony, whether it be accompanying a popular film, or accompanying Kenny Loggins or the B-52’s, is an enhancement. I tend to think that it’s not necessarily a bridge to classical music, because we’re not performing classical music. It’s more of a bridge to appreciate that a symphony is a very powerful musical platform for composers to really do great work.”
Again, performing with orchestras is fairly new to The B-52s, who were introduced to the idea by composer/conductor (and Beck's dad) David Campbell, according to singer Kate Pierson.
"[Campbell] did three songs for us: 'Love Shack,' 'Planet Clare,' and 'Rock Lobster,' and it was so amazing to do them with the orchestra," Pierson says. "We wanted him to do six more so we could have a whole set. He did that, and now we have a whole symphony set. We’ve played with the Nashville Symphony, the Utah Symphony, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and we’re about to play with the Atlanta Symphony in August too."
Loggins and The B-52s are strikingly different artists, coming at rock ‘n’ roll from very different angles. From the outside, it seems like a no-brainer that hours of rehearsals would be required to get these shows right – to get the orchestra in tune with the looser rockers. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.
“The [Symphony] musicians are exceptionally well trained, and really versatile,” says Forsyte. “Generally, rehearsals happen the day before and day of the show. They’re very fast. They have anywhere from three to four hours of time to pull it all together. But that’s kind of the professional expectation. I think they’re very adaptable to a different playing style. We then depend very heavily on the quality of the writing of the charts. Also, usually it’s very helpful to have a conductor who has done their homework. They have to be able to look at the charts, see if there are any tricky passages, and then rely on the conductor who works with us and the band.”
Kenny Loggins concurs, saying that the orchestras that he works with can play whatever he puts in front of them perfectly. He tries to make it as easy as possible for them by ensuring that the charts are as clear as possible, and the results are more than worth it.
“It can really lift you up as a performer,” Loggins says. “I did a show recently with the Denver Symphony, and the sound was perfect — I could hear the Symphony behind me and really feel the rush when they would come in. It can be very emotional. A lot of my music lends itself well to symphony arrangements. It’s just a very emotional way to play a lot of my tunes.”
Unfortunately, Loggins says that his best-known work, including “Footloose,” and “Dangerzone” from Top Gun, doesn’t translate as well as some of his other songs, but after getting requests from orchestral directors, he charted them out anyway.
“Sometimes it works and at least it keeps the continuity in the show,” he says. “But there are other songs I have, like “The Real Thing” and “Conviction of the Heart,” “House at Pooh Corner” or “Danny’s Song,” that they add a level of emotion that people who are new to symphonic arrangements can’t help but feel.”
For Pierson, the music of The B-52s lends itself beautifully to orchestral collaborations because it's so sparse.
"Especially the early stuff," she says. "It lends itself well to orchestration because you can really hear the orchestra. If we had a lot of instrumentation in there, I don’t think it would work that well. Because we were stripped down from the beginning and not overly-produced, it works well."
Expect the hits from The B-52s, while Loggins will be performing a set that combines his hits with some of the children’s songs that he’s become partially known for over the past couple of decades. It’ll all surely sound amazing in the Pacific Amphitheater, a venue that Forsyte believes is something of an undiscovered gem.
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“We moved because Irvine Meadows closed down,” he says. “Kenny Loggins is now the second performance in the summer festival 2017, and it’s a co-production with the Orange County Fair. We’re promoting it jointly. The B-52s is actually during the fair, while Kenny Loggins is the night before. The B-52s is part of a relationship we’ve cultivated with the fair over the last few years. The fair is well known, but the Pacific Amphitheater has been beautifully refurbished, and it’s an intimate venue. It’s a great venue to hear both orchestra and pop music.”
There’s a lot more going on this year too, with the Pacific Symphony performing a live rendition of John Williams’ score to Jurassic Park this summer and then, for the holidays, collaborating with Family Guy man Seth MacFarlane.
“[Jurassic Park will] be a thrilling evening of the live film and live music together,” Forsyte says. “What a lot of people don’t realize is that the orchestra is playing an entire score in one evening, whereas in the recording process, it would have been done over a number of sessions. To achieve that synchronicity of performance with film, and to also be able to hear how vivid John Williams’ score is, it just transforms the film experience.”
Go to pacificsymphony.org for more information.