When lead singer Randy Jackson walked on stage at the Civic Auditorium last Saturday night to begin the KSO Pops concert of the music of the British rock band Pink Floyd, there wasn’t the cool breeze of charisma blowing out into the audience that one expects with rock stars like Mick Jagger or Bono.
Actually, although Jackson (not the longtime “American Idol” judge, nor the youngest brother of the Jacksons) was the front man, he wasn’t the star of the show. That role belonged to conductor and arranger Brent Havens, who owns this symphonic version of Pink Floyd’s concert music, along with 13 other shows of rock and pop music he has built to be performed with symphony orchestras.
But Havens did his best to avoid the limelight. Dressed in black and with his back to the audience most of the time while he conducted the orchestra, he hardly spoke at all. His ensemble of musicians – singer Jackson, bass player Dan Clemens, drummer Powell Randolph, guitarist George Cintron, backup vocalist John Hines, sax player Eddie Williams and keyboardist and backup vocalist Kathryn Key – also perform symphonic rock shows of the music of Queen and Led Zeppelin, among others.
Trained in the world of classical music, Havens aims to both display the innate musical qualities of the great rock bands and get fans of rock music to a concert of symphonic music, likely the first symphony concert many in his audiences have ever attended.
As with his other symphonic rock ventures, Havens’ band of musicians played Pink Floyd’s music verbatim, with Havens arranging the orchestra’s instruments mixed in.
Drummer Randolph’s hot percussion solo, early in the show, was how Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason would have played it. So were the sizzling guitar solos of Cintron, following Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, and sax player Williams’ scorching solos, following the playing of Pink Floyd’s Dick Parry.
The program pretty much followed a run through Pink Floyd’s hit list, including, of course, music of 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” with “Speak to Me/Breathe,” “On the Run,” “The Great Gig in the Sky,” “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Any Color You Like,” “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” making up the entire first half of the program.
What came out of this was an understanding that, in the hands of a gifted arranger like Havens, rock music and symphonic music may not be that far apart. Except, of course, that symphonic music is the “long form” of ideas and stories, while rock music, by its nature, is the short form.
To his credit, Jackson didn’t hog the spotlight. At one point during the evening, he knelt down next to KSO associate concertmaster Gordon Tsai and held the microphone close to Tsai’s violin for important solos.
In the second half of the program, Jackson summoned six audience members to come on stage. One of them had won a radio contest, the prize of which was to conduct the orchestra. The other five joined Jackson in singing, while Jackson knelt again, this time sharing his microphone with the clearly delighted amateur singers reveling in their 15 minutes of fame.
When all was said and done, the thoroughly entertained audience went home satisfied after Jackson, the band and the orchestra played encores of “Wish You Were Here” and “Run Like Hell.”
The Knoxville Symphony’s next concerts will be of an entirely different order, with tonight and Friday night’s pair of Masterworks concerts. KSO Concertmaster William Shaub will play Felix Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E Minor,” Op. 64, with popular guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen leading the orchestra.
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Plenty of time should be allowed for parking and security screening.
More information about both tonight’s concert and upcoming pops concerts can be found here. https://www.knoxvillesymphony.com.