It would be as if Beethoven played Lollapalooza.
That was the concept Ed Stevens, a Fort Wayne Philharmonic cellist, visualized when he reached out to his friends and Philharmonic peers about creating a string instrument ensemble. They would perform a fusion of classical and popular music in venues that were less traditional – and more approving of happy hour cocktails.
He found eight formally trained musicians who were happy to oblige.
We want to bring classical music to a broader audience and get it out of the concert hall, he says. It opens the door to a wider variety of audiences.
People think you have to dress up and sit quietly for two hours, and we wanted to give people the opportunity to enjoy great music in a comfortable setting where they don’t have to feel they have to behave for two hours.
The eclectic ensemble String Shift presents its first concert, Symphony in Z, today at C2G Music Hall. The zombie-themed evening packs music from TV shows and movies, such as the Walking Dead and 28 Days Later, with dark classical composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich and Bela Bartok.
Classical music is in everybody’s life, whether they are of it or not, says Stevens, a self-professed zombie fan. Horror movie composers are heavily influenced by classical music. Like Shostakovich and Bartok, if you listen to their music, you can absolutely hear how horror composers emulate their style very directly.
It helps create a whole visual that’s powerful and creepy.
The ensemble will also play selections from heavy metal greats such as Metallica and White Zombie. Stevens says the musicians have been working on emulating the aggressive sound of heavy metal with their classical instruments.
When you play an electric guitar, 99 percent of the sound is coming through amplification. It takes very little effort to create a huge and robust sound – a very small stroke creates a power chord, Stevens says.
When we play, we’re playing without amplification – and it’s tiring. It’s absolutely a workout, but it’s fun. I think it will be effective when we pull it together.
Stevens has been working on creating a string ensemble with a classical-pop fusion for the past six months. The group comprises nine musicians who play cello, violin, viola and bass instruments. Most of the ensemble’s members have played together for three to seven years.
Stevens, along with violinists Derek Reeves, Johanna Bourkova-Morunov and bassist Kevin Piekarski, perform as full-time musicians for the Philharmonic. Members Timothy Tan, Colleen Tan, Lori Morgan, Caleb Mossburg and Rachel Mossburg have played as import musicians for the Philharmonic or perform with other local groups.
The zombie theme, fitting for the season, will be the ensemble’s first outing, but Stevens says he would like to program an ’80s-theme concert featuring music from the 1880s as well as the 1980s.
He says working on Symphony in Z has inspired him to program a concert featuring classic heavy metal hits. The group also wants to incorporate local singers and musicians into their concerts.
We’ve all played together in a concert setting, but it will be a first for this kind of configuration. It’s pretty exciting, and we are definitely thrilled to be doing something pretty unique, Stevens says.
Stevens, who has played the cello since he was 5, says String Shift offers a chance at something that eludes classically trained musicians for most of their professional careers – creative control.
For the most part, you’re being told what you’re going to play and how to play it, which is sort of the norm in classical orchestras, he says.
He says the group’s musicians are at a time in their lives when they can step out on their own.
It (String Shift) puts the emphasis back on us, he says. We get to come together and create something that we wouldn’t normally get to explore.
Reeves, who plays lead viola, says that when Stevens approached him with the idea, he thought it was a neat way to communicate with an audience who doesn’t usually listen to classical music.
There’s so much great music that I feel a lot of people don’t get a lot of exposure to, and I’ve always liked the idea of using music as a way of bridging gaps, Reeves says. It’s the most effective way for communication.
I think traditional musical venues have been so stigmatized that having a performance in a nontraditional venue can open more eyes.
Stevens says he believes the atmosphere of the venue can influence the audience’s reaction. C2G Music Hall offers a more intimate setting than is typical for classical concerts. He hopes a new scene will encourage people to leave the formalities at home.
That’s one of the main things I’m trying to tackle – creating an engaging atmosphere, Stevens says. That’s sort of why we picked C2G. There’s not a far distance between the audience and the musicians.
The main thing is trying to create a fun and relaxed experience for the audience to enjoy the music in a way that speaks to them, he says.
They can dress up if they want, but they might be out of place.