My son is a classical music snob. I guess that makes a weird kind of sense. Before I loosened up my hips and decided dancing was fun, I was my own kind of music snob–a sort of intellectual indie rock snob. So he comes by it honestly.
Last night, we found common ground: the premiere of an innovative mashup of Brahms’s First Symphony and Radiohead’s OK Computer as part of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Happy Hour at the Symphony series. The symphony debuted in 1876; OK Computer was released in 1997. Could two works produced a century apart be mashed into something new and interesting?
First, though, I have to say that I was blown away by the crowd. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t a lobby jam-packed with young professionals, most of whom were listening to Puff Daddy and Hanson the year OK Computer came out. The lines for most of the food being served–provided by the Libertine, Pizzology, Ivy Tech, White Castle, and others–were long and slow enough to try the patience of even the most ardent classic music fan. No matter: it was great to see such a mass of young people showing up to see the ISO.
The musical program began with an original song from each of the evening’s featured vocalists, beginning with Andrew Lipke‘s “Up to Here,” a soaring composition that highlighted his Thom Yorke-esque vocal chops. Lipke’s guitar strumming was badly out of sync with the orchestra for a good part of the piece, but it managed to be a pretty thrilling introduction to the night. Will Post‘s pleasant-but-unmemorable “A Boy and a Girl” and Indianapolis native Kristin Newborn‘s (ex of Indy band Slothpop) complex and beautiful “A Perfect Love” followed.
Then it was time for the main event. The symphony began quite strikingly, with the opening melody of “Airbag” morphing into Brahms’s introduction. Various elements of Ok Computer songs snuck into Brahms, creating a sort of overture. This, it seemed, was going to be fun.
And it mostly was. It was fun to hear “Paranoid Android” and “Subterranean Homesick Alien” played by the orchestra, although they felt a bit shoehorned into the work, as if the idea were, “Let’s take a break from all this Brahms and play a little Radiohead.” Other songs–particularly “Exit Music,” “Electioneering,” and the gorgeous “No Surprises”–were integrated more successfully, making the work feel like a true mashup.
The big disappointment was “Karma Police,” OK Computer’s most widely known song. The problem hinged on a bizarre decision to rewrite the lyrics–actually, a single lyric. In the refrain of the original version, Yorke repeats, “For a minute there, I lost myself.” In the ISO’s version, the singers sang, “For a minute or two, I lost myself.” Why? It forced an extra syllable into the line in a most unpleasant way, and turned the most recognizable lyrical passage of the night into a distraction. Bad decision.
Otherwise, it was fun to watch singers onstage with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra sing, “the panic, the vomit” and “we hope that you choke.”
And nobody choked. Conductor Steve Hackman is to be commended for even attempting such an ambitious program. The vocalists all acquitted themselves admirably, and the orchestra shone throughout. The free alcohol made for a little too much talking and walking around during the performance, but it was never obnoxious. All it all, it was an extremely enjoyable night of music.
My son, I should add, is also a Radiohead fan. But neither of us could quite let our biases go. We hashed out the show on our walk back to the car; I defended the mashups, he pointed out the flaws. His conclusion: “The Brahms was good.” Sigh.