Orchestrating Ripples Across The Pond: A Collective Interview With Steve Hackett, Band, & Conductor
April 26, 2020
In August 2018, I was approached by Alan Hewitt, writer for The Waiting Room (TWR), a fanzine that focuses on the music of Genesis. He was conducting an interview with Steve Hackett, his band, conductor Bradley Thachuk, and arranger Steve Thachuk for the 2018 UK orchestral tour. Alan asked me to write some orchestral-based questions due to my classical training and previous experiences performing in orchestras and symphonies.
The interviews were conducted both before and after the 2018 UK tour in October, and the interviews appeared in Issue #103: April 2019. The original article can be found here:
Although I was in the UK in October 2018, I had missed the orchestral tour by two weeks. The photographs below were taken earlier on during the North American tour for his new album The Night Siren. With the exception of three photographs, they are from the February 12, 2018 show at Massey Hall in the heart of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The photograph of myself and Bradley Thachuk is from Steve's Oakville show on September 18, 2019. The photograph of Amanda is from July 7, 2010 at Toronto's Mod Club during the Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth tour, and the photograph of Steve Thachuk was supplied by permission from Steve and Bradley Thachuk.
Bradley and I outside a Steve Hackett gig. September 18, 2019, Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Photo credit: Holly Quibell ©2019.
The Waiting Room (TWR): On your Facebook page, you claim to be a "rock music enthusiast/aficionado." Growing up in Toronto, Canada, who were your mentors and role models as a young conductor and musician?
Bradley Thachuk (BT): My very first mentor was the legendary classical guitar teacher Eli Kassner, who passed away recently. He oversaw my musical education from the age of seven through to the end of my undergraduate education at the University Of Toronto. My parents were hugely influential in supporting both my brother and me in all of our musical endeavours, from classical music to our time playing in rock bands in the large rock club scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Music has always been in our household, though they weren't musicians themselves. From legendary recordings of Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic and Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra to Queen, Marillion, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Rush, and even Iron Maiden, the record player rarely stopped.
TWR: Had you previously worked with Steve before the Buffalo concert last year? How did that working relationship commence?
BT: No. Although I'm a long-time admirer of Steve, I had never even met him. I had written many orchestra and rock band shows for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra previously, and they approached me to take this on. This project was so important and large in scope. It was the first, in fact, for which I drafted in my twin brother Steve to join me in writing the show, which hasnow become a permanent arranging partnership. Steve has killer ears and has stayed current on all of Steve [Hackett] 's work over the years, so his input was massively influential. After much back and forth with Steve [Hackett] and Roger King, a setlist was determined, and we launched into months of what would be the most fulfilling arranging of my career.
TWR: "Such was the gusto and verve brought to the performance by conductor Bradley Thachuk" is written on Steve's website regarding the Buffalo concert to promote the upcoming orchestral tour. What do you think sets you apart from other conductors that have worked with rock-oriented orchestras?
BT: I am a classically trained musician who never lost his childhood love of rock music. I don't see it as another gig; I see it as a unique privilege to share the stage with an artist I grew up admiring. I still can put "Supper's Ready" on in my house, and it passes by like it was only three minutes long! Good music is good music, be it Beethoven or Steve Hackett. When you remove any prejudice of what genre is better than the other, you are just left with the music. As a conductor, I have always maintained that my main role is to share the joy. When you love what you do, do it with the finest of musicians and perform the greatest music ever written. How can you help not being swept up in it? I wouldn't say that I am set apart from any other conductor, it's simply that every aspect of this project tugs at my heartstrings, and makes me happy to have found a career in music. It is really a dream for me to be able to return to rock music and do it on such a high level.
TWR: Are you contributing to the arranging process as well? Will any of the previous pieces from the Buffalo concert be experiencing changes on this upcoming tour?
BT: I have been the arranger for most of my rock projects, including this one. This was the first in which I drafted in my brother to partner me, which is now a permanent partnership. As we speak, I am writing two new arrangements for the tour. My brother did his portion and has now sent them to me. Essentially, he does all the initial takedowns and transcriptions, and then lays out a score for me to work on, and makes numerous suggestions of lines and melodies to compliment the band. I then take that and do more writing and orchestrating, something I am particularly trained for due to my years of working with orchestras. The process works very well and plays to all of our strengths. I am also currently revising a few of the charts from Buffalo to accommodate the touring orchestra. We had a massive battery of percussion in Buffalo that is simply impractical to take on a national tour, so that will be scaled down a tiny bit to accommodate all the various venues.
TWR: What, for you, is the most fulfilling aspect of your role as a conductor with the orchestra?
BT: I always like to say that I am the arbiter of taste and a sharer of the joy. Most of the work is done in rehearsal. This is where technical problems are smoothed over, and interpretation is made clear and honed. An orchestra is a vibrant organism of numerous talented musicians, who all have their own voices. Harnessing all that creative power, staying true to my own interpretation, and yet allowing every artist to be heard is a delicate balance.
Of course, I am there to keep things steady as well. For example, at the end of "Shadow Of The Hierophant," the drummer, Gary O'Toole – who is absolutely brilliant – starts a wild, syncopated, and rhythmically complex solo. It is my job to stay cool and keep everyone on the main beats. Another place in the show where a conductor simply needs to "lay it down" is in the "Apocalypse In 9/8" section of "Supper's Ready." The complexity of the passage, further complicated by Roger King's keyboard solo in another time signature, necessitates a steady hand to keep everyone in the same place, so we arrive together at the end.
TWR: In your opinion, what was one musical element that worked really well at the Buffalo concert, and what is one musical element that may need revamping for the upcoming tour?
BT: Everything clicked in Buffalo. There was not any specific element I can single out. That being said, one particularly iconic Genesis song was performed by the band alone. Another arranger had done the chart, but it didn't work for Steve and the band in its current performing version. We only had one rehearsal, so there wasn't time to fix it. We will be spending more time in London before the tour to make sure the discrepancies are rectified, and that work is added to the set.
TWR: A lot of the Genesis repertoire has become canonised amongst the fans. As a conductor, how do you try to feel and represent the music differently from when you participate as a listener? What new aspects do you hope to bring out of the music as the conductor of the orchestra that's different from previous classical instalments?
BT: Excellent question! God, I hope it doesn't offend anyone! My brother and I LOVE this music. Often we will look for lines that are buried lower in the mix, lines of particular interest, and then bring them out with instruments in the orchestra. It's mostly an enhancement, not a re-imagining. If we add anything, Steve has complete veto power if he doesn't like it. That hasn't happened, so I think we are in the clear. There are subtle melodic devices throughout the show that are original to the arrangements, but they are there to heighten excitement and provide support to the band.
TWR: How have changes in technology affected your work regime in the past ten years?
BT: We use the music notation software Sibelius, which constantly gets better. The internet has made it routinely simple for my brother to work in Los Angeles and me in Toronto. File sharing from Roger [King] allows us to instantly access any live board tapes that may change the arrangement. Generation of orchestral parts from the score is now a matter of hours, as opposed to the days of editing and double-checking it used to be, not even ten years ago.
As a conductor, technology hasn't changed us really at all. The orchestra is not a digital realm; it is a human realm. But in terms of communicating, ease of notation, and the creation of printed music, technology has vastly improved my workflow.
TWR: For you, what is the most challenging part of being a conductor to a rock band and orchestra?
BT: Hearing the orchestra. It is very loud up there, as it should be!
TWR: How do you think the audience will react to hearing the music they are so familiar with in this new setting? How have the band reacted thus far?
BT: The band love it! At least, that's what they tell me…maybe they are just being polite! (Laughs) My brother and I took great care to not step on anyone's parts, and when we found instances in some of the pre-existing arrangements of that, we edited them out. Some of the charts were from a few years ago and just needed to be tweaked to reflect the current way Steve performs them. People want to hear Rob play the flute solos in front of the orchestra, not hear the solo from the orchestra. We appreciate and are sensitive to that.
The audience are going to love it! The show has a unique energy to it; it's special. How many artists of Steve's level have even attempted to do a tour on this scale? It is historic! It raises the orchestra's level to perform with a legendary musician like Steve, and the band feeds off that energy too. It is indescribable, this loop of creativity that occurs. Of course, I imagine some purists may not like it, and that is their prerogative; I totally understand. I am familiar with this thing called the internet and social media, and there are always a vocal few who choose negativity over joy. But in my experience, Steve Hackett fans are the warmest, most knowledgeable, and supportive fans in the world. In my brief time on this project, I have made so many friends with his fans. They are truly unique, and I like to think that this tour is Steve's gift to them.
Promo photograph kindly provided by Steve Thachuk.
TWR: How did you first become involved in working with Steve and providing the arrangements?
Steve Thachuk (ST): It was through my brother Brad and the Buffalo Philharmonic. Brad and I both worked as arrangers before, but never together on a project. The Buffalo Philharmonic asked Brad to arrange and conduct the show, and when he saw the scope of what was involved, he called me in to help with the project, and we have been partners ever since.
TWR: How does collaboration with Steve Hackett differ from others you have had previously?
ST: I think the main difference has been my relationship with Steve's music. Brad and I were fans of Steve when we were kids and aspiring rock musicians. We first got to know Steve's music through GTR and his solo music because the GTR album came out in our early teenage years. From there I became a fan of his solo output. In fact, I didn't become intimately familiar with the Genesis years until much later. We've been big fans of Steve's, and our level of excitement throughout this project was, and still is, quite high. It's one of the artistic highpoints of my life.
TWR: How do you decipher whether you want the orchestra to provide colour to pre-existing melodies, or to create a new melodical journey within the music through the new orchestration?
ST: We make it a goal to use the orchestra as another band member, so we think of its function as adding a part to the song, albeit a large one. It's similar to how a guitar will add a fill, or there will be a little keyboard flourish of some type. The orchestrations tend to augment the existing material, and where there are opportunities to create new embellishments, or sometimes recall material that has appeared already. It is not our job to create new melodies, but to highlight what is there, and perhaps to shine a new light on it. The music that we have to work with on this project is already rich and filled with great music. We don't really need to add much, just have a hard think about how we can best use the orchestra within the existing structure.
TWR: None of this music was originally written down and scored properly. How much extra work has that involved for you trying to decipher it and then translate it into new orchestral arrangements? Has that been the biggest challenge thus far arranging Genesis music for an orchestra?
ST: A lot! (Laughs) Some of the music is very difficult to figure out and write out. That is part of why Brad asked me in to help in the first place. The deciphering was far more time-consuming than most projects I have done. The complex time signatures and the harmonic changes are unique, so it requires a bit more effort. And it absolutely had to be right, as the first time the band rehearsed with the orchestra in Buffalo was the afternoon of the show. There was going to be no time to readjust the arrangements, so the precision of the actual arrangement was key. We had to work a lot with Roger King to make sure it all was correct for the first rehearsal. I will let Brad speak more about the orchestration, as I had my hands more full with the deciphering and nuts and bolts of the arrangements.
TWR: How does this arranging process differ for you when compared to previous arranging projects like A Midsummer Night's Dream and Genesis Revisited, both from the 1990s?
ST: I purposefully didn't listen to previous arrangements while we were doing it. Over years of being a working musician, I have always tried to get my own thoughts together first, so during the process, I didn't listen to those projects. I'm not sure if Brad did either. I have gone back to listen to Genesis Revisited though, and they are great arrangements. I think the people who work with Steve's music and with Steve do it with a great deal of respect and awe, so I tend to see that in the other arrangements I've looked over. A lot of love and care went into them, and we get it; we are very passionate and into this project. I think the main difference is that because it is a live concert project, we are limited to a very strict parameter of instruments and resources. Brad and I couldn't say, "Oh, it would be cool if there was a choir in this bit. We should have Wagner tubas and Verdi trumpets in this bit." We had to work within a framework set by the Buffalo Philharmonic's resources and budget.
TWR: How do you start the arranging process of the songs? What do you prioritise first? Harmony? Melody? Dynamics?
ST: Brad was the lead on this part of the project, and I was the support, so I will defer to him on this. But I do think the orchestra tends to support the harmony a lot of the time and then provides embellishment. The trick is not to interfere with Steve and the band, but to support and lift them. The involvement with the melody always takes its cue from Steve's guitar lines and the vocal lines, and the orchestra supports him when possible and stays away when freedom is needed. There is a delicate balance.
TWR: What was your experience like co-arranging with Brad and the other band members?
ST: Brad and I co-arrange on all our charts, and there are a few new ones on this tour. I'm so excited! The new charts are great, and I can't wait to hear them! We confer with Roger King about versions, key, and tempos, but I think we have developed a level of trust with Steve and Roger. They know we will handle things well for them and that the orchestra is in good hands.
TWR: As an arranger, what does improvisation and composition mean to you? How do you balance the need for improvisation within the rock side of this music and the structure and form required for the orchestra?
ST: That is a Brad question. We both played in rock bands growing up, so as long as Brad knows what cues he needs from the band, he can bring the orchestra along with him. When laying out the improvisation sections, we tend to simplify the arrangement a bit so the improv can have freedom, and Brad can easily bring the orchestra in and out when needed. It's down to the relationship between Brad and the band.
TWR: The effect of a piece doesn't merely depend on the performance of the musicians, but also on the places it is being performed in. How influential will the concert halls in which you are playing in have on the overall placement of instrumentation within the arranging?
ST: It will probably have an effect, but the orchestrations aren't dependent on a specific acoustic to be successful.
TWR: How do you think the audience will react to hearing the music they are so familiar with in this new setting?
ST: The reaction in Buffalo was beyond our wildest expectations. It was such a large and unlikely project that we had no idea that it would be as well-received as it was. Steve's music lends itself really well to this treatment. Anyone who was there will attest to how special that evening was. I have every confidence that this will be repeated every night on this tour.
Photo Credit: Tony Howard ©2018
TWR: As the new member in the band, can you give us a brief history of your musical career to date?
Jonas Reingold (JR): I have always been playing music. It started in the seventies. I played the violin, and I was part of the local youth orchestras. Later, when I was 12, I got a guitar for Christmas. That was a big step for me. I got really involved and hooked on music, and I also formed my identity. During those years, I also started my first band. I believe we played our first gig at a school party in around 1980.
I studied music between 1985 and 1994, and I got my Master of Fine Arts degree in 1994. During the first year of study, I switched to bass guitar. I got a chance to sub for a bass player in a quite popular band where I lived. I borrowed a bass and thought I would just do a few shows, but I ended up staying with the band for almost a year. All of a sudden, I started to get called in for bass gigs! After University, I freelanced as a bass player, and I was also part of a recording factory making heavy metal albums for the Japanese market. That was a great learning experience for me: songwriting, producing, but most of all, learning how the music industry works.
I started to play with The Flower Kings in 1999, and I have been a member ever since. Through The Flower Kings, I got heavily involved with the progressive scene and recorded and toured with many others such as The Tangent, Karmakanic, Jon Anderson, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto, to mention but a few. To this date, I have done approximately 130 albums and 3000 shows.
TWR: How did you become involved with Steve?
JR: The progressive rock circle is kind of small, so in the end, you more or less end up knowing everyone. I got to know the guys in the Hackett band over the years from festivals, gigs, etcetera, even though I didn't play with all of them. I worked with Nad in Agents Of Mercy, and when I heard that the bass chair was vacant, I let the guys know that I really wanted to do it, and luckily Steve asked me.
TWR: How does working with Steve differ from the other people and bands you have worked with?
JR: Every situation is, of course, unique, but you can really tell that everybody in the band and crew are very seasoned. It is a well-oiled machine, and I'm with all these fantastic musicians and songs we are playing. Steve is the best boss in the world, and that makes it a job that's the best in the world. I am truly grateful to be a part of it.
TWR: As part of the rhythm section for these gigs, have you had to adapt your playing style to fit within the orchestral framework of the shows?
Jonas Reingold (JR): I don't think we are changing that much. Let's see what happens when we rehearse. I think as I understood it, it's Steve Hackett's band plus an orchestra, so I guess they have to adapt to us! (Laughs) I have played quite a lot with symphony orchestras in the past, and I know there are some challenges around the corner, but I trust everything will be fine in the end.
TWR: How do you think the audiences will react to the new setting for such familiar music? Has any of it taken you by surprise?
JR: I think the audiences will welcome this. The music is very grand in places and can it be much better than having a symphony orchestra backing it up? It is a special event and as a long time Genesis/Hackett fan I wouldn't miss out on something like this.
TWR: What are the biggest challenges in working with an orchestra?
JR: From my experience, it can be timing. When I played with symphony orchestras in the past, I always had a hard time following the conductor versus hearing the orchestra. The conductor's hand went down, but the orchestra reacted one second later. I always felt that they were late on the beat. It took me many gigs to understand the symbiosis between the conductor and the orchestra. Every orchestra has its own unique latency. Sometimes they could be so late that if you played a gig in a live TV programme, you could pack your gear and make it home in time to catch the last chord on the TV! (Laughs)
TWR: Did you have any input into which pieces were included in the set? Were there any you would have liked to have seen in this set that were left out?
JR: I didn't have anything to do with the choice of songs. I think that is due to what arrangements are written for this special arrangement.
Photo Credit: Tony Howard ©2018
TWR: Have you worked within an orchestral framework before, or is this a new experience for you?
Gary O'Toole (GO): Yes, I have worked with an orchestra before on West End shows and with strings.
TWR: As a drummer and vocalist, how much do you have to adapt both your playing and vocal styles to fit within the framework of the orchestra?
GO: Not at all so far, but we shall see how it goes, as there may be a dynamic consideration that needs looking at. String players don't do well with loud sounds from other instruments.
TWR: What for you is the most challenging aspect of playing with the orchestra?
GO: Keeping them in time. Although that is really the conductor's job, the drummer is the conductor's baton hand. So it is essential that the drummer is in time with the conductor.
TWR: Did all of you contribute to the selection of songs for the setlist? Was there a particular piece that you were excited to have the orchestra participate in or any that you felt should have been left out?
GO: No, just Steve and Jo.
TWR: You have become very familiar with the Genesis pieces now after performing them for several years. Now that you have played them with an orchestra, are there any you prefer in that setting, as opposed to the more usual rock setting?
GO: "Watcher Of The Skies" is a prime candidate for strings.
TWR: How involved have you been with the Thachuk brothers in terms of the arrangements?
GO: We spoke before the Buffalo gig and came to an understanding of how we would work. It was great, and I look forward to working with Bradley again in October.
Amanda Lehmann performing with Steve Hackett, July 7, 2010 at the Mod Club, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo Credit: John Hamilton ©2010
TWR: How different will it be for you performing these songs with an orchestra?
Amanda Lehmann (AL): In advance, I wasn't sure how much of the orchestra I would hear in my in-ear monitors. I could hear a little but not much, so I won't hear exactly how the whole thing sounded until I watch the DVD. I also wasn't sure how aware I would be of the orchestra when playing. Once onstage, I really enjoyed seeing them surrounding the band and catching the occasional glimpse of the conductor, Brad Thachuk, with his amazing theatrical style! And when I bumped into them backstage, they were all very friendly and enthusiastic.
TWR: As a vocalist and guitarist, have you had to adapt your playing or singing styles to fit within the orchestral framework?
AL: Well, I chose to sing "Shadow Of The Hierophant" in a more operatic style, as we have the orchestra playing. I change my vocal style a little each time on that tune. It keeps it fresh for me and the audience.
TWR: How do you think the audience will react to the new orchestral arrangements?
AL: I think they will love it! Both Steve's solo work and the Genesis tracks lend themselves perfectly to orchestral arrangements. It will sound epic! It will just give the audience more to see and hear.
TWR: Will it be difficult for you to support your voice over so many additional instruments?
AL: I trust that Ben Fenner will deal with that on the mixing desk! I have no doubt he will have my voice soaring through the auditorium on "Shadow Of The Hierophant!"
TWR: Do you have any particular favourites within the current setlist?
AL: "Serpentine Song" is one of my all-time favourites and I love playing it live. It's so full of colour and imagery. This time was particularly good as there were eight of us on stage as John Hackett joined us, and Nad on vocals too. It was such a wonderfully full sound!
TWR: How much rehearsal time have you had for these shows? Have you made any additional preparations for them on your own?
AL: I had no rehearsals for these shows. I just turned up on the day, quick soundcheck, and on we go! Obviously, I practised in advance on my own, but there's nothing quite like an actual show to file the rough edges out of a performance!
TWR: Do you find working with an orchestra limiting in any way?
AL: Not at all, it just enhances everything. As I said earlier, I couldn't hear that much of what the orchestra was playing, but the little bits that came through were lovely and made my job even more enjoyable than usual.
Photo Credit: Tony Howard ©2018
TWR: You have been the musical arranger for Steve for many years now. How does this arranging experience differ from working on previous projects, and just how involved are you with the Thachuk brothers in the arranging process?
Roger King (RK): For me, the process doesn't differ very much. The band will essentially do what it has done in the past with minor modifications, with the orchestra providing extra colour and weight. Plus there's the spectacle, of course, which shouldn't be underestimated.
We have orchestrations of some of the material from Thorvaldur Thorvaldsson, from a series of Icelandic concerts [Todmobile] that Steve was involved with a few years ago. We also have some from Bradley and Steve Thachuk that were scored for the Buffalo gig, plus one or two new things for the UK gigs. I was pretty concerned pre-Buffalo as to how it would all come together. I spent days poring over scores, but Brad and Steve [Thachuk] had seen and done it all before and made it work. Experts, you see; it turns out that we need them! So yes, we have worked closely with them, but essentially they do what they do, and it's all rather lovely.
TWR: Have any of the pieces selected for performance been difficult to arrange within the orchestral setting? If so, how have you overcome those difficulties?
RK: You engage experts to do what they do, and they deliver. Simple. Aside from the orchestrations themselves, the biggest difficulties lie in the budgeting and logistics - conveying fifty people around the country with all the necessary kit, fitting them all on stage and micing them up, and delivering feedback so everyone can hear everyone else. Fortunately, we have experts for all of that too.
TWR: Is this idea something that you and Steve have been considering for a while? It seems to be the logical next step within the evolution of these shows.
RK: I can't really speak for Steve, although I do know that he has been harbouring desires to work with orchestras for a long time. It was really the success of the Buffalo gig that made everyone think that it might be a viable proposition in the UK. I agree that it is a logical progression. Much of the music that we play, including the Genesis material, is symphonic in nature and lends itself well to proper orchestration.Orchestral textures have been a big feature of Steve's solo material over the last few years. As for me, I never dreamed of playing with an orchestra, so while I can't say that it is a dream come true, it is pretty special!
TWR: When working with an orchestra, do you find it limiting to your creativity, composition, or improvisation? Or do you find it encompasses those aspects?
RK: Improvisation isn't a particularly big part of the music that we play, and what there is tends to be within a structured framework, so no problem there. But how could it be limiting? To have all those extra resources available is a huge expansion of potential. And working with new musicians is always good.
TWR: What is the most challenging aspect to overcome when playing with an orchestra?
RK: I think most of the challenges are for the technical crew. For the band, we mainly just do what we do. Gary, Jonas, and Rob have more experience of working with conductors than I do, to be honest. So, it is pretty straightforward for them. Apart from discussions on cues, repeats and fades, it is a relatively straightforward process.
TWR: How do you see your individual instrumental passages fitting in with the orchestra?
RK: It's all "band plus" to me. It's not a question of fitting in, so much as an expansion of the sound palette. There are bits of Thor's orchestrations where we have omitted orchestral parts that are covered by the band, but it's like getting a new sofa. It's bigger and plusher and more comfortable, but you can still watch the match of the day in broadly the same fashion!
TWR: Have there been any disagreements on how certain passages should unfold within the orchestral setting?
RK: Not really. The original arrangements are generally complete, so the orchestration is largely an expansion of the original, rather than a wholesale rethink.
TWR: How free of a rein does Steve [Hackett] give to you all, and how constrained do you feel by the canonisation of the original compositions?
RK: With a few exceptions, I would say that we try to retain as much of the spirit of the original compositions as possible. I wouldn't call it constraint, but we are dealing with nostalgia to a certain extent, and I feel it is appropriate to respect that. Steve, I think, is a bit less concerned with authenticity.Of course, he has every right to deviate from the script as much as he wishes, but he will certainly chime in with observations on how things were originally done when he feels it is appropriate.
TWR: None of this music was originally written down and scored properly. How have you personally approached the task of translating it into new orchestral arrangements?
RK: Initially, by writing it down! Everyone in the band will have transcribed their parts, and in some cases with some direction from me. Steve and Brad will transcribe from our live versions with some help from me, if that expedites matters, although they are more than capable of coping on their own.Then it is up to Brad to colour it all in as he deems appropriate. That, in turn, gives me the option of omitting some of what I do, but the orchestra is really a superset of the band. "Band Plus" as I said.
Photo Credit: Tony Howard ©2018
TWR: As a vocalist, have you had to alter your vocal style to accommodate the orchestra?
Nad Sylvan (NS): You know, the first five gigs I didn't want to hear the orchestra at all, simply because I was afraid that I might be distracted and make mistakes. But going on the sixth, I thought, Sod it! This is maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity. I've got to hear them! And I sang, to my recollection, like I always have. It was fantastic!
TWR: Do you think these shows are a logical progression in the performance of this music?
NS: Oh, absolutely! We have now passed the 400 shows mark, and I think Steve was eager to elevate this Genesis Revisited experience even further. The music really lends itself towards a lush soundscape anyway, so why not spice it up even more if you can?
TWR: Do you find working with the orchestra restricting in any way?
NS: Not really, but I have toned down my dramatic performances a little bit over the last two years and focused more on the singing.
TWR: What is the most challenging aspect to overcome when learning to perform with an orchestra?
NS: Well, as I said earlier, it's the fear of getting distracted because of all the new sounds and nuances.
TWR: After working with an orchestra, are there any aspects from this experience that you would like toincorporate into your next project?
NS: I'm not sure if you mean my own solo project or with Steve, but regardless, I think it is too early to tell.
TWR: How did the audience react hearing the music they are so familiar with in this new setting?
NS: Now that we have done it, I can say that the reactions were outstanding. We always have a good crowd, though it felt a bit more serious this time.
TWR: Having performed this material so much over the last few years, you are very well-versed in it, and I imagine quite attached. That being said, after performing it with an orchestra, do you find yourself preferring any of these new arrangements to the standard rock versions?
NS: Of course, there are moments when you feel that way; it's inevitable. But that's not to say that the original versions don't work on their own merits. The music is so powerful in itself, but I would love to elaborate on this event for sure. What singer wouldn't want to sing with an orchestra? It's heavenly!
Photo Credit: John Hamilton ©2018
TWR: As a woodwind player, have you had to adapt your playing to fit within the framework of the orchestra? If so, do you find this change restrictive or liberating?
Rob Townsend (RT): I find it inspiring. The orchestrations weren't restrictive, so they allowed as much freedom as usual on the gig, but the whole thing was bigger. It's great making music with that many people!
TWR: Do you have any particular favourites that have been given the orchestral treatment, or pieces that you wish had been included?
RT: "El Nino" sounded particularly epic, as did "Shadow Of The Hierophant," "Supper's Ready," and "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight." In fact, all of it! Actually, the orchestration of "Blood On The Rooftops" worked really well too.
TWR: Has it been an interesting process for you? What have you learned from it?
RT: Yes! I learned not to go drinking with orchestral musicians! (Laughs)
TWR: How involved have you been with the arrangement process? Do you have any direct input?
RT: Not really, Brad dealt with all of that.
TWR: What is the most challenging aspect of playing with an orchestra?
RT: Finding a free toilet backstage!
TWR: Is it difficult adjusting to the increased usage of visual cues with the addition of an orchestra and conductor? Do you find them distracting from the music?
RT: No, I loved it. Brad is a very dynamic and communicative conductor, and we had a LOT of fun on tour! He loved all the rock and roll trappings!
Photo Credit: Tony Howard ©2018
TWR: Where did the idea for this orchestral tour come from?
SH: Well, I had an idea of doing one show in London with an orchestra. I have done various orchestral shows around the world. I did a couple of shows in Germany with a couple of orchestras, one of which we played in Halle, Handel's birthplace. I think we played some Handel at the end of it all, and that was extraordinary. Then I did stuff in Iceland with Todmobile, who had worked with Jon Anderson doing some extraordinary versions of Yes stuff. I knew that it was very good, and then they asked me if I would go and play with them. I said yes, and some of that stuff is up on YouTube. Then the Buffalo Philharmonic approached me in the form of Bradley Thachuk and his brother Steve and asked if I would like to work with them. So, we did a show in Buffalo, which went very well, and we particularly liked Bradley, who was conducting, as he is a very enthusiastic personality. Then there was the idea of doing one London show. Between John Giddings and the agency, Stuart Galbraith and Alan Day, who head up Kilimanjaro, they came back with six shows, which started selling very well, and it became eight shows.
So, this is the first time I have ever toured with an orchestra. They are known as The Heart Of England Orchestra with Helen Fitzgerald, who is the fixer, and she is also a cellist. Depending on what size orchestra you have, it is either The Heart Of England Chamber Orchestra or The Heart Of England Symphony Orchestra or Philharmonic. So, originally we started off with the idea of a 41 piece orchestra plus band, but it seems that some places might not have enough space on stage for that number of people, so we are down to about 36 now, despite what it says on the poster. We are doing a couple of shows in London, the Royal Festival Hall and the Palladium, and I have never played the Festival Hall under my own name.
TWR: None of this music was originally written down and scored properly. How have you personally approached the task of translating it into new orchestral arrangements with the Thachuk brothers?
SH: Well, don't forget it is group and orchestra, so we have the group arrangements augmented and supplemented by the orchestra. The charts – and this is important – part of them were done by Todmobile in Iceland. Brad and Steve have come up with the other ones, some of which I have heard and some of which I have yet to hear. All I can say is that when we rehearsed for the Buffalo show, we rehearsed all day and then did the show at night. And what will happen in reality is, I think we kick off in Nottingham, and I will do as much rehearsal as the orchestra can take.Then we will do the show, and hopefully, after that, it will be more like normal sound checks…hopefully! So, we don't have to work everyone to death every day! I hope that is not going to be the case, but it is one of those things where people assume you rehearse with an orchestra the same way you do with a group. But orchestras work from the written page, whereas groups work from memory, even when it starts off being written down. It is no less intense; it's just a question of a smaller space of time.
TWR: You didn't write the music down when you were playing in Genesis. How did you organise such complex musical ideas at that time?
SH: The most we had were chord shapes. Orchestration is an arcane art as far as I am concerned, although when Roger and I record, and increasingly with orchestral perspectives, we tend to track people up one at a time and we work with real and samples and what have you. But with an orchestra, it is a different ball game, and not everyone is prepared to become an orchestrator. Roger says he isn't trained to do that, but I suspect that is because he is thorough and doesn't want to take a chance on this, so we give it to people who know just how many violins it is going to take to get a line. All I know is that I love the sound of orchestras, and so much of the early Genesis stuff was orchestral in spirit and so influenced by classical music.
TWR: When you did the concert with the Buffalo orchestra, was there a moment from those arrangements on the night where you thought, Wow, I didn't think it was going to be like that!?
SH: Yeah. You get a sense of it because when you are playing onstage, you have to remember that an orchestra is playing acoustically and a group is playing amplified. So, unless you are wearing in-ear monitors, and you have got everything being fed to you, in the group you are flying blind to some degree.But you get a sense of it, and occasionally when the orchestra started to come through, it becomes this monster massive sound. We will have the advantage of everything being individually mic'd with pickups, and I am fascinated to see where this leads and what that can do sonically.
For me, this goes right back the important bands I was listening to. First of all, it was The Shadows, then it was the Shadows that stepped out from behind with an orchestra for Wonderful Land, and those infinite perspectives work very well with groups. The Beatles were interesting for me in all their incarnations. I say not just because you are a Liverpudlian, but because with the spirit of the Beatles, they came up with fascinating sound combinations from the word go. And then occasionally when they downed tools and allowed the orchestra to lead the charge and paint the picture, fill in the rest of the character portraits, then it became truly amazing.It still resonates with me today musically. I don't know what it is, but I have to do it.
TWR: With these orchestral shows, are they still a show of two halves? One half being the Genesis stuff and the other being a mixture of your solo material?
SH: We will need to do a break halfway through, I can tell you that much, so that the orchestra get a break and the band get a break. All I can say is I think it is mainly Genesis, and even though the shows are still a month away. I made the decision, and ever since then, I have been working on the next thing. I couldn't tell you what proportion it is going to be, but there will be some of my stuff and a lot of Genesis. We are not stuck for material, but it is essentially a Genesis show.It will be Genesis classics like"Supper's Ready," "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight," etc., but it is a one-off. Whether I will ever tour again with an orchestra, I don't know. It is a very big rabbit to pull out of the hat. I know Peter [Gabriel] has done this, and we all have our own take on it, but it is another brick in a very flexible wall.
TWR: How do you think the audience will react to hearing the music they are so familiar with in this new setting?
SH: You know, I have no idea. I have been wondering what I am going to say to the crowd, but it has got to be along the lines of,"I always hoped that Genesis would become an orchestra." I always hoped that we would integrate an orchestra the way that The Beatles evolved to include orchestras as part of the drive towards what we now, retrospectively, call "World Music." I remember seeing George Harrison in a concert from Boston with an orchestra of mainly Indian musicians – a very different sounding orchestra!
I think orchestras start in the brain, don't they? Someone has got to imagine a whole bunch of people sounding like one instrument. I just remember being exposed very early on to Tchaikovsky – and I must have said this a million times – and falling in love instantly with the sound of these amazing, soaring melodies. I had no training; I had no idea on the wind-up gramophone that I was hearing that Tchaikovsky was a bloke who had popped his clogs long ago! (Laughs) So, it lives on, and there is this legacy of Genesis music, and I think that it deserves to have as much going for it as possible. Now, I am not saying that this is definitive; it is merely another version, another interpretation of what we started in the early 1970s. In a way, it is an extension of what I am currently doing,which is putting the finishing touches to an album that is largely orchestral in spirit. Then there are these shows of the early stuff being interpreted by group and orchestra. So, you have the edge of the group and the infinite sounds of the orchestra.