Their Royal Highnesses, Queen

Pretty much every fan of the genre has his/her own pet theory of rock & roll and its ideal form. The only thing we can posit for sure is that what floats your boat might sink ours, and vice versa. There are those who will always insist the music is best served fast, loud and limited to three chords. This contingent will stand for no window-dressing whatsoever -- their prerogative if they want it. Sure, some very good records have been made adhering to this formula, but ultimately it's a closed circle; and anyway, the guiding spirit of rock & roll has always been one of fluid freedom-seeking, the blurring of seemingly fixed, rigid boundaries. Which is where strings, woodwinds and brass (other than the standard-issue honkin' and brayin' saxophone, that is) enter the mix. Orchestral instruments, that is -- very, supposedly, un-rock & roll suspects. But a small string section or horn chart can make the doors of any rock/pop composition open wide into new, spacious rooms; an entire orchestra takes those doors and blows them off their hinges...and knocks the surrounding walls down, too. During the second half of the 1960s, the era's bolder songwriters and arrangers (Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney and, to a lesser extent, John Lennon, Gary Brooker, Ian Anderson, Graham Nash, Justin Hayward, Robert Fripp, et al.) began writing for and working within the expanded tonal and harmonic palette of strings and wind instruments. The results were glorious, and old rules were rewritten overnight. It became obvious: Rock and classical pair well together, so much so that, 40-plus years on, it's tough to beat a full symphony orchestra interpreting rock songs and suites in a concert venue, either in support of a live band or on its own. This is exactly the kind of mashup delicacy our St. Louis Symphony Orchestra dishes up this spring, beginning with Music of Queen.

Queen's music was always a strutting, self-consciously over-the-top thing, but most of the heavy lifting had to be done by Brian May's incredible guitar playing (artfully overdubbed for maximal soundscaping). At 8 p.m. on Friday, May 31, the SLSO marches out the full ersatz pomp of Queen's songbook in renditions of familiar material such as "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Another One Bites the Dust." But what we're really hoping to hear is "Tie Your Mother Down"; to behold an entire symphony orchestra amplify May's beautiful beast of a riff would be worth double the value of Freddie Mercury's queenly estate. The show takes place at Powell Symphony Hall (718 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-1700 or www.slso.org), and tickets cost $35 to $80.
Fri., May 31, 2013

 
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