Steve Hackman Remixes Beethoven and Beyoncé with Seattle Symphony

Conductor, composer and producer Steve Hackman brings his latest project fusing pop and classical, From Beethoven to Beyoncé, to the Seattle Symphony on June 16.

By Andrew Stiefel

Steve Hackman wants you to listen to classical music like he does: interwoven with some of the greatest pop classics from our time. Listening to one of Hackman’s productions is like hearing your music library gone rogue, Radiohead soaring over Brahms and Stravinsky arguing with Bruno Mars.

For critics, it’s tempting to dismiss Hackman’s conceptual concerts as musical pandering. After all, why does Beyoncé even need Beethoven? Or for that matter, why does Beethoven need Beyoncé? But it’s perfectly in keeping with the Seattle Symphony’s motto: listen boldly.

Plus, if you give Hackman a chance, you might just have a little fun, too.

Hackman has already conducted two successful mashups with the Seattle Symphony: Brahms V. Radiohead and, most recently, Beethoven V. Coldplay. He’s back in Seattle on June 16 to conduct what might be his most ambitious project to date: From Beethoven to Beyoncé.

This sensational program weaves together pop-classical matches like Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 with Beyoncé's “Single Ladies ("Put a Ring on It")” and Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony with Muse’s “Uprising” and Chance the Rapper’s “Paranoia,” creating a compelling musical landscape that is both strikingly modern and enchantingly classical.

When did you initially notice the connections between classical and pop music?

My musical journey has always been a dual one: classical and popular. Whether as an eight-year-old listening to both Chopin and Michael Jackson; in high school, studying piano and singing in musicals; as undergrad, playing piano recitals and serving as the director of an a cappella group; or in grad school at Curtis, studying conducting and counterpoint but writing songs and producing albums at night.

Was there a specific pairing of songs/compositions that exemplified those similarities when you heard them?

The similarities have been revealing themselves from the very beginning. I am always dissecting and analyzing music as I listen. This isn't to say I don't listen for enjoyment; but there is a part of me that is always breaking the music down. I think that is from studying piano and playing by ear. But it is owed to this constant dissection and continuous breaking down of musical material into its raw forms that the similarities have been abundantly clear for so long.

What was your first mashup experiment?

I believe it was a movement of Beethoven V. Coldplay with the Indianapolis Symphony. But it was a very rudimentary form; essentially it was just a medley. We played Beethoven, then I wrote a segue into Coldplay, then we segued back into Beethoven. Over the years I got better and better at actually synthesizing the music, so they were truly coexisting.

What is your process when composing a mashup program?

First is choosing the composer/artist pairing. I try to be always thoughtful and discerning when making the pairings. It isn't about whether two things will work together — because frankly I think I can make just about anything work! It is about whether or not they should go together. Why combine them? First is the process of asking these questions and arriving at the pairing.

Next is song selection. I do this by simply playlisting and at first making a broad selection of songs and albums. As I am doing this, the structure of the piece begins to take shape. I start to get an idea of which song will work at different moments in the classical work.

Then comes the fun part: opening up the score at the piano, playing the classical work, and mixing in the popular songs wherever possible. In some sections I already know I am going to attempt to make a pairing; sometimes it happens spontaneously. It is improvisatory and exploratory. I get a general sketch down at the piano, then go to the computer notation software to score.

Are there any pop-classical pairings you would like to try in the future?

Many! How about Carmina Nirvana?

Great ready for the most ambitious pop-classical mashup yet with Steve Hackman and the Seattle Symphony, June 16 at Benaroya Hall. Tickets from $30.

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Posted on May 30, 2019

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