Pop culture adds vibrancy to Adelaide Symphony Orchestra


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By Genevieve Meegan

Harry Potter, rock goddess Orianthi, music legend Prince and Star Wars – not exactly names you associate with symphonic music.

Yet all of these stars and mainstream titles form a key part of the 2019 Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO) offerings.

While symphonic music remains at the centre of the recently unveiled 2019 ASO season, it’s clear that tapping into popular culture and injecting recognisable brands into each program is key to cultivating new audiences of the future.

Managing director Vincent Ciccarello says the 2019 season explores different genres and, in doing so, redefines what it means to be a symphony orchestra in the 21st century.

“A symphony orchestra in the 21st century isn’t all about symphonic music, it’s about orchestral music and presenting music of different genres be it jazz, film, hip hop with the Hilltop Hoods, in all its glory, in a way that only an orchestra can,” he says.

“Symphonic music really is the reason we exist. The repertoire of the 19th and 20th century is really why you need to have a large body of highly skilled musicians to be able to recreate that music.

“However, there is so much more to orchestral music away from the symphonic repertoire. What we mean by that is we perform music from films for example. People recognise that movie soundtracks are not only vital to the success of the movie, but also a whole movie genre in and of itself.

“So, it is possible to have music by film composers such as Ennio Morricone or John Williams performed in concert without any screens because it has such integrity as music and that is what we want to emphasise.”

In 2019 the ASO will continue its Showcase Series with another tribute concert, this time to legendary singer/songwriter Prince, who will be celebrated in Let’s Go Crazy: A Symphonic Tribute to Prince.

The show will be performed by iOTA, Brendan Maclean and Prinnie Stevens, along with the orchestra. And in a major coup for the ASO, guitar superstar Orianthi will also star in the event.

Originally from Adelaide, Orianthi achieved world-wide acclaim as Michael Jackson’s guitarist. What is less known about the performer is that she also jammed on occasion with Prince himself.

Harry Potter and Star Wars also make a comeback with the ASO, this time with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire™ in Concert featuring Patrick Doyle’s score, as well as the Disney production Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in Concert featuring John Williams’ legendary score.

“Harry Potter and Star Wars continue to be big shows,” Vincent says.

“We are over the moon about the reaction to both of those series. We present the first series on September 15 (Star Wars A New Hope in Concert) and we are approaching 5000 tickets sold and that is a really big deal.”

While this kind of innovative programming helps cultivate young orchestral music lovers, Vincent admits it remains a challenge to compete with the immediacy of modern day life for a generation that craves instant gratification.

“Society has changed and the place and value of music, not just symphonic but all music, has completely changed,” he says.

“Music is really ubiquitous now in every sphere of life, in the car, on the phone, streaming, it is so readily available and people can tap into a kaleidoscope of genres and we need to be responsive to that and change with the times.

“That is the great challenge for us so not only do we present movie music, but popular music or contemporary music such as George Michael or Prince presented in an orchestral setting is now an annual part of our season. Part of that is to be sensitive to what is happening in society, but also to encourage young people to connect to us.”

While mindful of appealing to all ages, Vincent admits the ASO needs to get better at, and funnel more resources into, what he calls the “hand-to-hand combat” of programming.

“An article recently stated that Netflix dominated the Venice Biennale,” he says.

“This is the way of the world, people have such a plethora of things available to them, so how do you switch them onto things beyond what is immediately under their nose via social media or whatever? That is the stuff we need to get better at and we have a number of schemes that we use to help us with that.”

One of those schemes is the ASO’s Learning and Families program which presents shows such as next year’s Who Needs A Conductor Anyway?

The show, which is part of the DreamBIG Children’s Festival, has been written by acclaimed pianist Simon Tedeschi and is aimed at children 8+ years of age. It provides a light-hearted, humorous way of exposing young minds to what an orchestra and conductor actually do.

Another show in the 2019 line up is Dreams of Air & Flight, inspired by the book FArTHER by English author Grahame Baker-Smith.

Keeping the ASO purists happy is also vital to the lifeblood of the organisation and the 2019 season shouldn’t disappoint.

Returning highlights include the flagship Master Series, Classics Unwrapped, Gigs at Grainger and Mozart at Elder.

“It’s a careful balance,” Vincent says. “We have to remember our mainstream flagship Master Series generates more than $1 million in box office a year, so it’s a sizeable contribution to the ASO’s bottom line and we should never take that for granted.

“Apart from the fact it does remain our core business, it’s why you have a symphony orchestra, that group of expert musicians who perform at peak levels.”

The ASO’s full family program will be released in November.

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