York Symphony Orchestra to perform David Bowie classics with Canadian rockers

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Jeans 'n Classics, a rock band that collaborates with symphony orchestras across North America, will perform a program of David Bowie classics with the York Symphony Orchestra Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7:30 p.m.

After his death in January 2016, English artist David Bowie was widely lauded as a rock hero for his contributions to music and popular culture in the 20th century. 

In keeping with the 2018-19 season theme of "Heroes," the York Symphony Orchestra will honor Bowie at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, 50 N. George St.

The concert is a pops collaboration with Jeans 'n Classics, a Canadian rock band that performs symphonic arrangements of popular music with orchestras across North America.

"It very much is a melding of the two worlds," said Peter Brennan, founder and arranger for Jeans 'n Classics. "Suddenly, you still have the curious people who maybe are symphony-goers who think, 'What is this, they’re doing something with a rock band?' or people that are Bowie fanatics who are like, 'What’s this with an orchestra?'"

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 1997, file photo, David Bowie performs during a concert celebrating his 50th birthday, at Madison Square Garden in New York. Bowie, the innovative and iconic singer whose illustrious career lasted five decades, died Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, after battling cancer for 18 months. He was 69. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm, File)

During Jeans 'n Classics' Bowie concerts, Brennan said the songs "Blue Jean," "Rebel Rebel" and "Young Americans" are always a hit with audiences.

One of Brennan's personal favorites to perform is "Space Oddity," the 1969 hit inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey."

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When he's arranging Bowie for orchestra, Brennan said he has to be mindful of preserving the music's original edge while ensuring the orchestra is not simply playing whole-note chords in the background.

Brennan said "Rebel Rebel" in particular showcases the orchestra's ability to perform the song without losing that edge, by mimicking, in a symphonic manner, what a guitar player might do if he or she let loose with the tune.

"I’m hoping that wherever Bowie may be, he’s having a sardonic grin over what we’re doing with 'Rebel Rebel,'" Brennan said.

When Jeans 'n Classics performs with an orchestra, they bring a seven-piece band with drums, guitar, bass, keyboards and vocalists. 

Peter Brennan is the founder of Jeans 'n Classics, a rock band that performs with symphony orchestras across North America.

Chelsea Tipton II, principal pops conductor for the  New Haven Symphony Orchestra and music director for the Symphony of Southeast Texas, is guest conducting the performance.

Tipton, whose favorite Bowie tracks include "Starman," "China Girl" and "Golden Years," also is a big fan of the artist.

"People think, 'Oh, it’s a pops concert, so it’s easier music,'" he said. "Not necessarily."

Tipton said pops concerts usually allow for fewer rehearsals, and the music is often unfamiliar.

Also, when a guest artist, such as Jeans 'n Classics, comes to perform with an orchestra for a pops concert, there's often not a lot for the orchestra to contribute to the performance, Tipton said.

With Jeans 'n Classics, the orchestra is front and center in the arrangements, and the orchestral musicians fully participate.

Chelsea Tipton II, principal pops conductor for New Haven Symphony Orchestra and music director for Symphony of Southeast Texas, is guest conducting a York Symphony Orchestra performance of David Bowie classics.

Tipton said these pops performances are part of attracting new audiences to the symphony and that orchestras need to provide a variety of musical styles to their communities.

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"The days of saying 'We only play Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach' are really gone," he said.

Brennan wants audience members to know they won't be hearing elevator music but instead seeing "a proper band" at Saturday's performance.

"Join us for the mayhem," Brennan said.

If you go: The York Symphony Orchestra will perform the music of David Bowie with guest artist Jeans 'n Classics and guest conductor Chelsea Tipton II at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts, 50 N. George St.

Tickets are selling fast. Standard prices are between $39 and $45. Student tickets are $5.

For information or to purchase tickets, visit yorksymphony.org or call 717-846-1111.