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The North Carolina Symphony never fails to impress us with the breadth of its vision, encompassing in the space of a single week the Four Seasons of Antonio Vivaldi and the progressive rock music of Pink Floyd. Conductor and arranger Brent Havens has a long history of bringing the music of great rock bands to the symphonic stage, beginning in 1990 with his first endeavor of the kind, the Music of Led Zepplin. With his troupe of musicians he has formed the corporation Windborne Music which earlier this spring joined the NC Symphony in presenting the music of Queen.
Pink Floyd was cofounded in London in 1965 by Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, who penned many of the distinctly surrealist lyrics, notably those of the iconic, best-selling album, Dark Side of the Moon, which comprised all of the music heard in the first half of the NC Symphony's incursion into the world of psychedelic Rock.
Opening the concert with "Breathe" ("...And all you touch and all you see/ Is all your life will ever be...") sung by Randy Jackson (of Zebra fame), we were treated to magenta lightings morphing to lime green and laser projections of bobbing Möbius strips on the walls of Meymandi Concert Hall of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. "Time" the title of the next vocal composition, featured alarm clocks, ticking and ringing, interacting with the outstanding drummer Powell Randolph, while our eyes watched sine waves bounce around the hall ("...the time is gone, the song is over...").
Another striking number was the wordless vocalization of Kathryn Key, who accompanied herself on the keyboard in "The Great Gig in the Sky," while reefer-less smoke drifted harmlessly toward the ceiling. George Cintron was astounding on electric guitar, as was Eddie Williams on saxophone. They joined forces on the mixed meter (mostly 7/4) "Money," ("root of all evil...").
Philosophically approaching the nihilism of Camus and the pessimism of T.S. Eliot, much of the mood of Dark Side... was again reflected in the searching of the poignant "Hey, You...," which opened the second half of the concert ("Hey you, out there in the cold/ Getting lonely, getting old/ Can you feel me?"). But the mood was lightened dramatically by the addition of half a dozen audience members randomly invited to sing along in the otherwise desperate "We Don't Need No Education." Closing the concert with "Run Like Hell," the entire audience was on its feet, begging in vain for an encore, but the conductor led the concertmaster off stage and that was that.
Apart from the necessity of amplifying the string section (most noticeably) of the orchestra and the deformation of the sound caused thereby, the blending of rock band and symphony orchestra seemed to work quite well. Of course rock fans expect the volume to be high, perhaps the main reason many Classical musicians stay away from rock concerts. But the general mood and philosophical bent of the music of Pink Floyd is not unlike that of certain works of Mahler or Sibelius!