Two Nashville Performances Blur The Line Between Classical And Pop

May 4, 2017

In the span of just a few days, the Nashville Ballet and ALIAS Chamber Ensemble are offering a pair of variations on a theme: exploring the way classical music can interact and interweave with other sounds and genres. 

To be clear, while the two groups have a history of collaboration, there is no formal connection between the programs that close out their respective performance seasons. But taken side by side, there is a sort of rhyming order to the work they've chosen to present.

Dancing To A Nashville Sound

When Nashville musician collective Ten Out of Tenn first came together 12 years ago, they did so with the intention of showcasing Nashville’s diverse music scene “beyond the country genre that it’s traditionally known for.” Now the artists, who represent a broad range of popular styles, will join the Nashville Ballet and Nashville Symphony to highlight yet another of Nashville’s thriving genres: classical music.

The genre-bending result of this collaboration will be the world premiere of Seven Deadly Sins, a work that music director and Ten Out of Tenn member K.S. Rhoads has described as a cross-section of Nashville’s vibrant and diverse art scene: “Ours is a city that celebrates and thrives on creativity, and this show is such a beautiful culmination of that,” Rhoads said. “There will be dance, theatre, full orchestration, songwriting, musicianship and storytelling all in one.”  

Each of the Ten Out of Tenn artists will debut original music inspired by one of the seven deadly sins. The set list, featuring orchestration scored by Rhodes and performed by the Nashville Symphony, includes:

  • Pride (Can't Bury My Weakness) by Butterfly Boucher
  • Greed (This Isn't What I Got Into It For) by Trent Dabbs and K.S. Rhoads
  • Envy (If Every Wish Came True) by Katie Herzig, Amy Stroup and K.S. Rhoads
  • Sloth (I Feel It Too Much) by Erin McCarley and K.S. Rhoads
  • Gluttony (I Can't Get Enough Of Everything) by Jeremy Lister, Gabe Dixon and K.S. Rhoads
  • Lust (All That I Want) by Matthew Perryman Jones and K.S. Rhoads
  • Wrath (Like Thunder) by K.S. Rhoads

Choreography from Nashville Ballet company dancer Christopher Stuart visually brings each deadly transgression to life (with the help of costumes by Nashville-based fashion designer Maria “Poni” Silver), but he points out that the performance is not just about the insidiousness of sin. “At its core, the ballet is about the choices we make,” Stuart says. “As flawed, imperfect humans, we’re bound to slip up from time to time, but Seven Deadly Sins offers a hopeful, thought-provoking look at what happens when we do.”   

The program also includes an abstract interpretation of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring from Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet’s Artistic Director and CEO. And while Copland’s iconic music might seem perfectly traditional next to Vasterling’s choreography or the new musical offerings from Ten Out of Tenn, the composer’s fusion of Shaker tunes, classical idioms and pioneering American themes is genre-bending itself and has been described by NPR as one of the milestones of the millennium.

Seven Deadly Sins and Appalachian Spring will run May 5-7 at TPAC, and more live music that stretches the traditions of classical music is soon to follow. On May 9, ALIAS Chamber Ensemble will perform a program that places a baroque oratorio side by side with a psychedelic rock composition.

Chamber Music Meets Jam Band

Tracy Silverman, the innovative (and Nashville-based) electric violinist will join ALIAS for their performance of Trey Anastasio’s Divided Sky, a piece that originated in 1987 with Anastasio’s rock band Phish. The evolution of the piece has been meticulously documented by Phish’s infamously devoted fans, and the exact truth of the song’s origin is shrouded in tales of bonfire chants, cloud-gazing and the use of psychedelic mushrooms—but, the first full-scale orchestral version of the piece was apparently performed in 2008 at the Ryman Auditorium with Orchestra Nashville.

What does this psychedelic-rock-turned-orchestral work have in common with Georg Philipp Telemann’s Cantata 69, also on the ALIAS program? The ensemble points to the shared “virtuosic musicianship and masterful improvisation” required by both pieces. And, like Seven Deadly Sins, it's a testament to the range and ambition of Nashville's artists. 

ALIAS's genre-blurring performance is rounded out by two works from Sarah Kirkland Snider and Mason Bates's String Band. Inspired by the fiddles, guitars, mandolins, and banjos of old-time bands, the piece is also harmonically adventurous. Beginning with a theme that recalls string band traditions, the music ventures into a "fractured pitch world," before returning to a unified, resonating close. 

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