"The Ben Folds Orchestral Experience" at the
"I feel the musicians' pain," Folds shared recently. "I've done a bunch of these shows with symphonies. Most players don't know me from Adam. They operate in a world of their own, feel territorial and some -- not all -- feel threatened working with a pop guy. They worry I'll be asking them to dumb it down."
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During rehearsals, Folds has heard symphony guys "make funny remarks under their breath -- 'Let's go to letter J [in the score] for joke.' Sometimes, they even alter the score, write in 'corrections' because they don't like the harmonies.
"It's a small minority that's like that, but they can be disruptive for the first half-hour of rehearsal," Folds said, "until I win them over."
It helps that he won't make our orchestra compete with "screaming electric guitar, bass and drums, as many symphonic rock shows demand. Trying to outshout a rock band and playing with cotton in their ears can be so demoralizing, and it's such a waste of their great skills and dynamics."
And in concert, Folds is very much the awestruck enthusiast, sharing his own classical roots (as a percussionist) and urging listeners to dig deeper into the world of symphonic music.
First under fire
That's lucky for all concerned here, as Folds is the laboratory guinea pig for the Mann, kick-starting the
"I'm pulling them out of their comfort zone of dead 19th- and 20th-century German composers," Folds mused.
What's the Fab Philadelphians' take on all this? Most players we reached out to declined comment.
The Mann has "been evolving in this [pop] direction for several years," Mann president and CEO
"We've become a single-admission concert hall, with a commitment and mission to serve as diverse an audience as possible," Cahill explained. "The years of the
The orchestra wants to "be supportive of the Mann with their new vision,"
Functioning now as Mann Center hired guns, the orchestra players also will focus their decades of serious training on sugar-sweet pop tenors (the Simon Cowell-masterminded Italian trio
Our Philly symph likewise will toil as a
While truer to Mann traditions, the
And to fill three nights at the Kimmel Center that the
First with two evenings of symphed-up Beatles music -- "Classical Mystery Tour" complete with clone vocal quartet (
One orchestra member said most of the ensemble probably resents having to play pops. "We used to leave the pops to the Philly Pops," said the player, who wanted to remain anonymous. "Now our Mann schedule is mostly pops with a token classical concert or two. Also an increasing share of our seasons at Vail and Saratoga are pops, even if our management tries to frame them as 'light classical.'"
But the Fab Four shows do have at least one Fab Philadelphian excited.
"I have loved the Beatles ever since they first arrived in
Ben digs 'em
Clearly, times are tough for artists working in the classical world and "in all kinds of music, really," said Folds, who tracks such things as a board member of the
"The symphony is the highest vibration of music, capable of all kinds of power and nuance. They don't need to be doing wet T-shirt nights with cheesy [stuff] to survive. But on the other hand . . . they need to be aware that some people are listening to
Even with tour sponsorship from carmaker Acura, Folds has taken a serious pay cut to do this symphony run, which also features a vocal chorus of "eight to 10 -- not that many." His poshed-up pop tunes boast "really good, challenging charts by
And his concerto touches on American icons like
If he's feeling their support, Folds sometimes pulls the orchestra into improvising a song based on an audience member's suggestion. And "for the last couple of shows," he's taken to doing encores with the orchestra, too.
"The audience will roar if I come back alone. It's because they're now thinking they can shout out requests. But that cheering sends the wrong message to the orchestra," he said. "I want them to feel as loved by the audience as they are by me."
Ben Folds Orchestral Experience with the
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