ISO Concert Merges Brahms and Radiohead

Brahms RadioheadWhen Brad Lunz was an architecture student in the late 1990s, he’d pump the music of Radiohead and Dvorak through his Discman and headphones to inspire creativity when creating computer models.

So it’s no surprise that he’s open to a fusion of rock and classical music and that he’s excited about Friday’s Imperial Symphony Orchestra concert merging the complex melodies of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” with Johannes Brahms’ First Symphony.

Lunz, president of the ISO board, was instrumental, pardon the pun, in bringing the mashup “Brahms v. Radiohead” to Lakeland. Steve Hackman, the young (mid-30s) composer who created the piece, will conduct the orchestra in its 8 p.m. Friday performance at the Polk Theatre.

Lunz explains he learned about the piece when it was performed by the Florida Orchestra in St. Petersburg in 2015. He missed the concert but found a YouTube video of another performance and “absolutely fell in love with it. It’s a cross-genre symphonic piece that really was compelling.”

The 43-year-old architect suggested “Brahms v. Radiohead” to the ISO’s Production Committee as a vehicle to help expand the orchestra’s audience, and they agreed to include it on this year’s Lakeland Genesis subscription series.

“We started talking about how do we engage different demographics,” Lunz said. “Symphonic music is all around us. It’s in the movies. It’s in rock, if you look at Pink Floyd, The Beatles.”

Amy Wiggins, the ISO’s executive director, sees another connection: “Brahms was pop culture at the time. What he was doing was very appropriate and rock star like.”

Composer Hackman, known for several mashups of classical and rock (“Beethoven v. Coldplay,” “Copland v. Bon Iver,” “Bartók v. Björk,” “Drake + Tchaikovsky“) says he had a dual music identity as a student: While attending the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he was also writing and playing pop music in bands.

He merged both passions after he became a conductor, first through smaller pieces and then through the Brahms-Radiohead mashup. He told a Portland, Ore., writer that he found a lot in common between Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Radiohead‘s 1997 “OK Computer:” counterpoint in melodies, intensity, pathos, angst.

“He really wanted to celebrate Brahms’ work,” Wiggins says. “Most of what you here is Brahms. The Radiohead themes and melody are altered more than the Brahms.”

Indeed, a critic who attended the Colorado concert seen in the video above, said the orchestration exposed the lushness of Brahms more than the “rhythmic electricity and innovation of OK Computer.”

Friday’s concert, which features three singers fronting the orchestra, is generating ticket sales from Hackman and Radiohead fans in the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas, Wiggins said. The ISO was able to promote the show to out-of-town audiences through dollars from the Polk County Tourism Development Council.

The orchestra’s outreach even extends to high school musicians. French horn player Ed Hackman is bringing his St. Cloud High School students to hear the concert, Wiggins said.

And where will ISO Conductor Mark Thielen be during the concert? Back in the orchestra playing violin. But he’s also been preparing to discuss Brahms’ life and times for tonight’s Tea and Symphony event, scheduled for 5:45 p.m. at the RP Funding Center’s Hollingsworth Room.

Wiggins says she hopes more Polk residents take advantage of Friday’s concert: “Its an opportunity for people to be open minded about music. So many people have such a tendency to like what they like and celebrate what they celebrate. A program like this gives us an opportunity to find beauty in things that are unfamiliar to ourselves.”

A different “OK Computer” performance had been planned for Lakeland last fall, but was postponed in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Now comes word from LkldLive that the planned tribute to “OK Computer” by the band Copeland and other performers has been cancelled. Those who purchased tickets can contact LkldLive for a refund, credit toward another concert or to donate the ticket amount to the non-profit organization.