Beethoven and Coldplay Mash Up in Concert for Charity

No doubt singer and frontman Chris Martin and his Coldplay bandmates would be flattered to hear it, but Steven Hackman thinks there is a parallel between their music and that of Beethoven.

“I think they share universal, humanist themes, such as triumph and tragedy, and they do it in such a large way,” he said days before conducting a Lakeland concert fusing the music of Coldplay and Beethoven.

Hackman, a young American conductor, composer and producer-arranger, has devised several of what he terms “fusions” – works that alternate, or layer, music from a classical composer with that of a pop or rock band or artist.

Among others, he has fused together Aaron Copland and Bon Iver, and Tchaikovsky and Drake. These concerts have been praised as innovative and panned by both classical and pop music fans, but Hackman has defended the works as labors of love of both genres.

Steven Hackman conducts “Brahms v. Radiohead” with the Imperial Symphony in 2018

Last year’s Imperial Symphony Orchestra concert that featured Hackman conducting “Brahms v. Radiohead,” his interweaving of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 with songs from Radiohead’s album “OK Computer,” was surely one of the more adventurous concerts the orchestra has attempted.

Now Hackman is returning to Lakeland to conduct the Imperial Symphony in “Beethoven v. Coldplay,” Hackman’s collage of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) with songs from various Coldplay albums. The concert is not part of the orchestra’s season but rather a benefit for the Rotary clubs of Lakeland, with proceeds going toward the club’s charitable activities on behalf of children.

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Polk Theatre in Lakeland, and tickets are $50 with all seats reserved. (Ticket info.)

The 50-minute concert incorporates nine Coldplay songs, with three vocalists performing along with the orchestra. The songs – including “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” “The Scientist” and “Fix You” – are drawn from the band’s first five albums, its most successful period, especially the acclaimed “Viva la Vida” (2008).

On the face of it, the pairing of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 and Coldplay appears an odd fit. The symphony was groundbreaking for its length and scale; a symphony that grand had never been attempted, and it set a standard for others that followed. Coldplay, the British alternative rock band, is known for its romantic songs, but Hackman points to “Viva La Vida.”

“They sing, ‘I used to rule the world.’ It has that heroic quality, but in the past tense,” he said. “Beethoven dedicated the Symphony No. 3 to Napoleon but tore up the manuscript when he crowned himself emperor.”

Hackman said this particular fusion has been his most requested. He is fresh from conducting “Beethoven v. Coldplay” with the Southwest Florida Symphony in Fort Myers, and he recently conducted it with the Seattle Symphony.

Thursday’s concert was the idea of Alyssia Totten, co-chair of the Rotary Club of Lakeland South’s benefit committee. She said that she was involved in the effort to bring Hackman to the Imperial Symphony Orchestra’s schedule and was impressed with the concert.

“It was really well received. Everyone enjoyed it. When the Rotary Club was looking for a benefit, I thought of Steven,” she said. “Mostly people were surprised at how easily Brahms and Radiohead went together.”

Totten said she has seen a video of “Beethoven v. Coldplay” on YouTube, and although she said musically she is “stuck in the 70s,” she found the matchup “amazing.”

“Coldplay has such a mainstream following, and so does Beethoven,” she said. “The result is fascinating.”

Totten said the proceeds will benefit the four Rotary clubs of Lakeland, with projects to be funded still to be determined, but she pointed to the Rotary Playground in Hernando’s Landing at Lake Parker as an example of the clubs’ work.

Imperial Symphony Executive Director Amy Wiggins said the orchestra is pleased to reunite with Hackman for a good cause.

“We’re thrilled to be on stage with an amazing and innovative artist like Steven Hackman and support the Rotary in their charitable activities,” she said.

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