The Best Symphonic Mashups

(By Gene Yraola)

Having a supporting orchestra arrangement can more often than not create a more grandeur atmosphere to any non-classical song.  Let’s take a look back at some of the most notable non-classical/orchestra mashups in the last two decades:

 

Jay-Z & The Illdephonics (Carnegie Hall Benefit Concert)

Witnessed by only a few thousand over the course of two nights, Jay-Z became the first hip-hop artist ever to headline the famed Carnegie Hall. The concert benefiting the United Way of New York City and the Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation was one of the greatest spectacles ever seen at Carnegie and has lead way to the beginning of a major break down of the most significant cultural barrier of the classical genre.

Unlike most concerts by Jay-Z, this was different. This would be Jay-Z performing at one of the most illustrious and dignified classical venues. This was history. This was Carnegie.

All the stops were pulled out. To embody the cultural significance of the night, an orchestra was a must for the night! While a few songs in Jay-Z’s catalog could be orchestrated naturally (“Heart of The City,” “Empire State of Mine,”), the majority of his repertoire posed a great deal of difficulty. Thankfully Brooklyn-based modern-classical composer Daniel Felsenfeld was up to the task and masterfully arranged 28+ of Jay-Z’s most iconic hits to create a captivating program that showcased how to do a hip-hop orchestra arrangement done right.

Jay-Z wound end up performing 20+ songs with a 40-piece orchestra conducted by Jeri Lynne Johnson (of Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra) and the Illadelphonics featuring ?uestlove and Bilal to sheer perfection.  Never before has a rap concert ever had so much bravado behind it and highly doubtful that such an endeavor will be seen any time soon.

Along with cameos from Alicia Keys and Nas, and some of the best, most inventive production values ever see in a concert, the two night performance would end up not only being one of the greatest highlights of Jay-Z’s career thus far, but one of the most historic moments of Carnegie Hall itself right alongside performances from The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and Leonard Bernstein.

While a DVD release of the concert has been rumored since the date of the performances themselves, chances are unlikely with the rights to the footage held to American Express.

 

Adele Live at The Royal Albert Hall

Coming off the worldwide success of her sophomore release 21, megastar Adele took stage at the Royal Albert Hall to pull off a performance for the ages.

Only a voice so pure and defining could command a 20 piece orchestra with such fluid and grace.

While the backstory behind the performance was simply an inclusion and “coming home” on the Adele Live tour in 2011, it is without question one of the more significant pop highlights at Royal ALbert Hall. The supporting orchestra, directed by Paul Dugdale, was rightfully second fiddle to Adele’s voice, but nonetheless played a tremendous part in providing an inspiring emotional output that took Adele’s songs to a new dimension.

Adele’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall would continue her chart-topping success becoming one of the few concert video hits in the last decade, going platinum in the US and selling 3 million worldwide.

 

Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony (S&M)
If any band was ever constructed to create a classical approach to their catalog of epic proportions, Metallica was certainly it.
Rooted in somewhat as a tribute to deceased Metallica bassist Cliff Burton and his love for classical music, Metallica’s S&M release mashes their most thunderous songs to additional symphonic accompaniment, composed by Michael Kamen. The San Francisco Symphony, conducted as well by Michael Kamen, would provide the backing for what would be one of the greatest orchestra/metal pairings ever.

In addition to a rattling re-imagining of the hits “Enter Sandman” and “One,” the project also spawned the creation of one Metallica’s most underrated singles “No Lead Clover,” a truly magnificent display of percussion and strings on the San Francisco Symphony’s own merit.

As a background sidenote to the circumstances regarding the release of S&M in 1999, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich was engulfed as the posterboy against the dawn of the illegal digital download era of Napster to massive public backlash. Not only was he seen as an anti-technologist portrayed in the media but also partially damaged the reputation of the band toward gaining new teen-angst fans. The release of S&M served as one of the most ambitious concert videos in the early days of the DVD format (including the uniquely notable options to listen to the band without orchestra and vice versa) and as a response for the band that it indeed was technology-foward.

Not surprising, with its incredible production value, unique twist on Metallica’s already grandiose thumping hits, and most importantly a successful arrangement between classical and metal, S&M would go on to become a commercial success going 5x platinum since its release.

 

 

Sting and The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (Symphonicity album and tour)
The songs of Sting/The Police songs were made to be done with classical accompaniments. Performing with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Symphonicity reinterprets a handful of Sting’s songs as classical symphonic compositions that is both faithful to the original yet sounding uniquely fresh and distinctive.

In some instances, (“I Hung My Head”) the new renditions actually outdo the original to a greater emotional level.

While some of his more recent hits (“Desert Rose” for example) and the eternal “Every Breath You Take” by the Police are notably absent, the 13 pieces arranged for Symphonicity are simply magic on the ears.

Sting and The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra could have easily taken the cheap route and went with arrangements that resembled the same pacing and tone of the originals, but the construction set on Symphonicity is a vivid experience that exemplifies how to create classical backings for pop songs without sounding forced upon.

 

Tori Amos – Night of Hunters

How do you take one of the 90s’ most iconic female singer-songwriters, reinvent her and yet maintain her style of somber tones? For Tori Amos, the answer was as easy as doing a classical concept album.

Paying tribute to composers as Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Granados, Satie and Schubert, and utilizing their compositions to create entirely new works of her own, classically-trained Amos embarked on the ambitious Night of Hunters project in 2011 to much renewed fanfare.

The record would be a daring step for Amos, breaking a nearly 15-long journey with her accustomed bandmates, while working alongside a bevy of only acoustic musicians to create a true “classical” sound.

Among the challenges faced by Amos in the creation of the Night of Hunters included the use of instruments to play as “voices” while not overpowering her own vocals or her piano performances itself.

While technically not an explosive commercial success, the record was for the most part positively reviewed by critics and respectfully put Tori back in the spotlight of the singer-songwriter field after a decade of fan disappointments.

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