Tyrant’s Crush at the BPO

Rock star drummer Stewart Copeland shows his classical composing chops

BY JAN JEZIORO

Stewart Copeland gained international fame as the drummer for The Police, an English new-wave band that he formed in 1977 when he recruited guitarist Andy Summers, and the vocalist and bass guitarist Sting, who became the group’s primary songwriter. The Police were a leading force in what has come to be known as the second British invasion of America, the first invasion, of course, being that being headed by the Beatles in the sixties. Enormously popular before they disbanded in 1986, The Police got back together again one last time, for a 14 month tour in early 2007 for a sold-out worldwide tour. Just about now, you might be asking yourself what any of this has to do with classical music.

Stewart Copeland will make his BPO debut in Kleinhans Music Hall, both as a composer and as a featured soloist, on Friday October 28 at 10:30am and on Saturday October 29 at 8pm, but not in a Pops concert program, as you might expect, but in a M&T Classical Series concert in his latest orchestral composition, Tyrant’s Crush, a work commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra where the work received its premiere this past February. It turns out that in his post-Police career, Copeland has been very active composing classical music scores, spending more than twenty years as a successful film and TV composer, working with big name moviemakers like Francis Ford Coppola on Rumblefish and Oliver Stone on Wall Street.

Copeland was commissioned to write a ballet for the San Francisco Ballet, and his first opera, “Holy Blood and the Crescent Moon” for the Cleveland Opera in 1989. In April 2011 he wrote a short opera based on the Edgar Allen Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which premiered at the Royal Opera House in London. Recent commissions include his score for MGM’s 1925 silent film classic, “Ben-Hur” which premiered at the Virginia Arts Festival and which was performed in 2014 by the Chicago Symphony, and his new opera, “The Invention of Morel” recently premiered at The Long Beach Opera. In addition to having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Copeland has received five Grammy Awards.

“My dad was into big-band jazz”, Copeland noted in an interview with the Pittsburgh City Paper before the premiere of Tyrant’s Crush, “and my mom was into 20th century composers. So, actually, the music raging around in my head was more Stravinsky and Ravel until the advent of Jimi Hendrix. And then it became raging guitar – surrounded by Stravinsky and orchestral colors.” While there are now numerous, large-scale 20th century orchestral works written for percussion and symphonic orchestra, this may well be the first major work featuring rock music’s essential percussion instrument, the drum kit, as solo instrument. The three BPO percussionists will also have major roles to play, as Copeland’s score calls for several dozen other percussion instruments ranging from the bongos and the bowed saw to the cabasa. “I think the Italian term is big-ass orchestra,” Copeland said in the same interview, clarifying the piece’s instrumentation. “There are featured roles for percussion, and the tympani gets a few starring roles. So drums, three percussionists, featured harp and tympani.”

Copeland describes the three movements of Tyrant’s Crush in the published score. “The first movement, ‘Poltroons in Paradise’ is the cheerful part of the story, about those who ride in on the back of a revolution and then discover the temptation of things against which they had revolted. The chandeliers, the brocades, and the gilded furniture all inspire a grand buffoonery that hides a sneaking desire. In the second movement, ‘Monster Just Needed Love (but ate the children anyway)’ the Monster is at his desk, with so much to discuss and few to trust. Kill or cure? Eat or feed? It’s hard to tell who is who these days”. The final movement, ‘Over the Wall (or up against it)’ finds the Monster worried, as “implacable forces converge. The butler’s hand is shaking as he pours the last beer. Like me he’s wondering how to get out of here”. It might all sound like rather heavy going, but after hearing a broadcast of the work’s premiere on WNED 94.5 FM recently, I’m very much looking forward to hearing this high energy piece live this weekend.

The program, which will be led by guest conductor Mark Laycock, also includes Liszt’s brilliantly orchestrated tone poem, Les Preludes, and the rarely programmed Symphony No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 70, composed by Shostakovich in 1945. Initially praised by some for “its joie de vivre, gaiety, brilliance, and pungency” the work soon landed the composer in trouble with Stalin for the second time, since it did not have the expected monumental quality of a work composed to mark the Russian victory at the end of World War II.

Tickets and mInformation: 885-5000 or www.bpo.org