Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's classic rock, and then there's 'classic' rock

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Roll over Beethoven, John Einarson's spreading some news.

The local pop music historian, author and teacher is collaborating with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on a new show designed to bridge the gap between classical music and rock 'n' roll.

"I hope people come away with a sense that classical music doesn't stand alone," Einarson says. "It's not an isolated genre; it has permeated a lot of aspects of music. We want to show that rock 'n' roll didn't just draw from blues and folk and country, but from classical, too. A lot of heavy-metal guitarists have studied classical music."

Rock Owes the Classics was developed by Einarson and the WSO's artistic and operations associate James Manishen, focusing on artists that used classical material as the basis for a new song, or were inspired by a piece of work to create something entirely different.

The night will feature eight students from the St. John's-Ravenscourt School Rock Show program playing the rock songs before the symphony kicks in with the original piece of music that inspired it, or vice-versa.

The program starts with the Electric Light Orchestra's version of Roll Over Beethoven and segues into the Chuck Berry standard before the WSO, conducted by Richard Lee, kicks in with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Other works that will be presented include a version of Aram Khachaturian's famous Sabre Dance, which was covered by 1960s Welsh band Love Sculpture, and Eric Carmen's 1975 hit All By Myself, based on the second movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.

The Beatles, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Deep Purple and even a surprise hip-hop artist are also featured.

"For people into classical music who regularly go, and subscribers, it should be interesting for them to hear the symphonic song they know and the pop song they may or may not know," says Einarson. "We're talking mostly about a boomer crowd, so they should know a lot of it."

The 59-year-old will serve as the host and explain the background of the music and how the pieces are connected. He will even pull out his Les Paul and join the students for a song, but he's not letting on which one.

"It's been 40 years since I played on that stage," he says. "I was playing lead guitar for Fabulous George and the Zodiacs opening for Crowbar around this time in 1971."

Einarson's stint as a host shouldn't come as a surprise, since he is considered an expert on the origins of rock 'n' roll and teaches a music history course at the University of Winnipeg.

He was a regular on the Winnipeg community club scene in the 1960s, hosts the radio show This Time Long Ago Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m. on nostalgia station CJNU 107.9 and has written 15 music biographies, including his latest, Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia, which was published in September and has achieved positive reviews from across Canada and in England's Mojo magazine.

"I've actually slowed down right now," he says. "I've got three ideas before the publisher. I'll see if one of them bites. Two of the three are Winnipeg-related."

He has a bit more time to write these days since retiring from a full-time teaching gig at St. John's-Ravenscourt School three years ago, but continues to facilitate the annual Rock Show at the institution featuring more than 100 students performing a variety of music.

It was some of those students who will be performing in the Rock Owes the Classics show as part of the WSO's SoundBytes series. They have been practising hard to make sure everything is set for their debut Saturday, Einarson says.

"The conductor came a week ago to the kids' rehearsal to make sure we were doing the song the right way and that the segues would work, and he was very pleased," he says. "Of course, the tempos can be off, too. If we play Khachaturian's Sabre Dance too fast then the symphony has to be fast. It's one thing for the guitar to pick fast, but it's hard to pick fast on a violin or tuba," he says.

Speed tuba? How very rock 'n' roll.

Concert preview

Rock Owes the Classics

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Saturday at 8 p.m. at Centennial Concert Hall

Tickets $29.15 to $84.10 at Ticketmaster

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 24, 2011 D5

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