This time, BTO means Bachman Turns Orchestral

Guess who's joining the WSO this weekend?


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THE Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is ready to trade in its Bach for Bachman.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/12/2014 (2851 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is ready to trade in its Bach for Bachman.

Arranged by acclaimed Canadian composer Charles Cozens, Randy Bachman’s Symphonic Overdrive — which opens tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall and runs through Sunday — will feature the WSO backing Bachman on 14 symphonic interpretations of some of his most enduring hits with the Guess Who and Bachman Turner Overdrive, including You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet, Undun, These Eyes, American Woman and, of course, Takin’ Care of Business.

Bachman is eager to bring the show to his hometown after runs with Orchestra London and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony earlier in the fall. He says performing with an orchestra was a welcome nudge out of his comfort zone.

Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press Randy Bachman discusses his upcoming collaboration with the WSO, Randy Bachman's Symphonic Overdrive.

“It was a challenge,” Bachman says on the eve of his first rehearsal with the WSO, acknowledging that fronting a rock band isn’t quite the same as fronting an orchestra.

“When I’m playing with my band and I do something different, they follow me,” he says. “With the symphony, you can’t do that; they are tied lock, stock and barrel to what’s on the page. If a fly lands on the paper, they play it because it looks like a whole note.”

The rehearsals leading up to the Kitchener-Waterloo and London performances — and sometimes the concerts themselves — allowed Bachman and Cozens to fine-tune the set and figure out what worked (storytelling and banter) and what didn’t (a particularly ambitious cover).

“Some songs just crashed and burned,” Bachman says, with a laugh. “I had an idea to do Tomorrow Never Knows, which is one of my favourite Beatles songs. It’s not the normal Beatles happy pop song you can sing along with; it’s all backwards tapes and everything. I was trying to get the orchestra to recreate the tape on strings and it didn’t work. We did it twice and I said, ‘You know what? Let’s leave it out. And the band was like, ‘Thank God — we were wondering how to tell you.'”

Randy Bachman’s Symphonic Overdrive is part of the WSO’s Air Canada Pops series, which sees the orchestra lend its talents to a host of contemporary performers; the Tenors, Natalie MacMaster, the Barenaked Ladies, Sarah Slean and Lindi Ortega are just some of the artists with whom the orchestra has collaborated in memorable Pops performances.

For the orchestra, it’s a chance to do something different. “You get to let your hair down a little bit,” says second violinist Kristina Bauch. “With classical music, there’s a lot of ebb and flow and the conductor indicates when that will happen, so you’re really focused on that. With pops concerts, it’s very groove-based. Often you’re performing with a drummer. It’s a different vibe.”

“It’s great because everybody wins,” says principal clarinetist Micah Heilbrunn. “We get to play for an audience that might not ordinarily come to the symphony. The artists get to revisit their material in a new and refreshing way, and they get a lot of energy from that, I find. The audience as well — they get to hear something from their favourite artists in a fresher way. It’s a good time for everyone. We have just as much fun as the audience does. It’s not exactly what you train to do in music school when you’re young, but it’s great.”

It’s not hard to understand why everyone from Metallica to Kiss has cut a live album with a symphony (even Sir Mix-A-Lot recently performed Baby Got Back with the Seattle Symphony). Nothing elevates or cuts to the emotional heart of a song quite like the cinematic swell of a symphony orchestra.

For Bachman, it’s been an affecting experience.

“Halfway through the second verse of Prairie Town — which I wrote about Winnipeg — in come these strings and I get all verklempt onstage,” he says. “The orchestra brings emotion to the songs that we just can’t do with guitar, bass, drums and voices. It’s the icing on the cake.”

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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