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VOL. 126 | NO. 217 | Monday, November 7, 2011

Styles Blend at Opus One Concert

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News

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Call it “Million Dollar Beethoven” or “Whoop That Shostakovich.”

Guest artist Al Kapone will join the Memphis Symphony Orchestra for the season opener of its Opus One concert series, which features local artists and a blend of musical genres. The concert Nov. 10 will be MSO’s first performance on Beale Street.

(Photos: Courtesy of Melissa Anderson Sweazy)

The Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s conductor-less, style-mixing Opus One concert series takes on the crunk music of Al Kapone in its season opener. The Nov. 10 concert to be held at the New Daisy Theater is the first time in symphony history that the orchestra has performed on Beale Street.

“I think the idea is to reach out to the more pop-oriented community and mix the classical and pop genres,” said Sam Shoup, who arranges pop music for the Opus One concerts. “The interesting thing is you have symphony patrons and pop patrons getting exposed to genres they wouldn’t normally hear.”

You can say that again. Last year’s inaugural season included performances with Memphis diva Joyce Cobb, rocker/pop ballad crooner Amy LaVere and soul singer Susan Marshall, but it might seem at first glance that mixing classical music and crunk – a Southern blending of rap and hip hop – would be an even greater challenge.

Not so, said some of the musicians.

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to work with (Kapone) because there are similarities between what he’s doing and what we’re doing,” said Heather Trussell, violinist. “The classical pieces that we chose for this concert are also rhythmically driving. If you compare the Shostakovich score and one of Al’s charts, they’d look a lot alike. It’s all music.”

“Al’s music is very orchestral in nature, I was quite surprised,” said Shoup, who had the job of arranging songs of Kapone’s like “Million Dollar Boots” and “Whoop that Trick” from the score of Craig Brewer’s film, “Hustle & Flow.” “Some rap artists just have the beat box, but (Kapone’s) music translates quite well to the orchestral medium. We’re breaking new ground in gangsta orchestration.”

More importantly, said Trussell, Kapone, like previous guests artists, is from Memphis.

“We’re local musicians and they are other local musicians, we want to pull it all together,” said Trussell.

Kapone started working the local scene in the 1990’s and made a couple dozen singles and albums before writing and producing “Whoop That Trick” and “It Ain’t Over” for “Hustle & Flow.”

To pull it off, Opus One will stage more than 40 symphony players in casual dress. Shoup added electric bass, which he’s playing himself, plus keyboard and a host of extra percussion including an electric drum kit to simulate the beat box sound.

Dress for audience and players alike will be casual and Trussell said don’t be surprised if some of the musicians sip a beer between pieces.

Classical pieces on the one and a half hour program include Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a chamber arrangement of Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet and an as yet untitled memorial piece commissioned for Opus One and written by MSO cellist Jonathan Kirkcey. The piece is based on Armenian folk tunes.

Symphony members will introduce the pieces themselves using their personal comic wit as best they see fit, but if nobody listens that’s fine too.

“We did some research and found that there was a rap artist who performed with an orchestra, but it was in a symphony setting in an orchestra hall,” said Trussell.

“This would have a different vibe if it was in the Cannon Center,” said Shoup. “It’s like you’re going to a party or a club and there’s a symphony orchestra playing. Every time I walk in and they start playing, I think this is the coolest thing ever.”

Ticket’s for Opus One with guest artist Al Kapone can be purchased at www.memphissymphony.org. Attendees must be at least 18 years of age. A cash bar will be provided.

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