MSO adds symphonic richness to Queen's music

When members of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra take on the rock group Queen at the Riverside Theater on Dec. 8, they will stretch the music of Freddie Mercury and company in new directions.

The performance will be anything but a staid classical music event, according to Brent Havens, the guest conductor/arranger who has adapted Queen’s music for a fuller symphonic sound. 

“This will be a rock concert and not an orchestral concert – with a band, singer and even rock lighting,” Havens says. “There will be most of the big hits and even some tunes we’ve dug deep in the catalogue to find that not everyone will recognize (except) for those super fans.”

Queen isn’t the only group whose music Havens has adapted for symphonic structure. He also has taken on the songbooks for groups like Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Doors, Pink Floyd and The Eagles. In many cases, the original numbers were never written down, requiring Havens to commit songs like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Baba Yaga” and “Light My Fire” to sheet music and orchestrate it for various instruments. 

“Since Queen’s catalog is relatively expansive and the band’s material is very rich in harmonic structures and melody, it was one show that was very simple to write,” Havens says. “The music itself dictated the arrangements.”

Havens has worked with numerous symphony orchestras around the world putting on such shows, including London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. But Havens most significant experience has been with MSO, starting with adapting the music of the Doobie Brothers for Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary celebration several years ago. 

Havens believes his adaptation of Queen’s music will please fans of the original work, as well as those who can appreciate the richer, fuller sound that an orchestra can bring to familiar songs.

“We aren’t running roughshod over the original material. We are leaving it as close to the original interpretation as possible and augmenting the experience with a full orchestra,” he says. “It’s a wonderful combination that works quite well and the original music certainly doesn’t need ‘legitimizing’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

To help maintain the energy and vitality of Queen’s music, Havens is employing a five-piece rock band that includes vocalist Brody Dolyniuk, whose band Yellow Brick Road is the most popular cover band in Las Vegas. A talented musical mimic, Dolyniuk began by covering Elton John songs, then grew his band’s performance catalog as opportunities arose.

Dolyniuk, 42, is a Wichita, Kan., native who can’t read a note of music. But the singer’s natural talent allows him to embody Mercury, John and other singers, including Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder and Peter Gabriel, both vocally and in mannerisms. Don’t expect Dolyniuk to don Spandex jump suits or a dental prosthesis to portray Mercury, however.

“I’ve done shows where we did the look and mannerisms of the performers, but those days are behind me, I think,” Dolyniuk says. “For this show, I’m concentrating on the music and vocal performance, although I do try to make it fun, high energy and audience interactive.”

In addition to Dolyniuk, the faux Queen on Dec. 8 will include guitarist George Cintron, bassist Daniel Clemens, keyboard player Bart Kuebler and drummer Powell Randolph. All four musicians will also contribute vocally.

The blend of orchestral and rock sounds brings new life to Queen’s music and should win new fans on both sides of the aisle, Havens says. If nothing else, it’s a great way to introduce rock fans to the classical music approach.

“As with our other similar shows, I’m sure there are people who are going to come out who have never seen their city’s symphony orchestra,” Havens explains. “This allows them to experience something new along with the music that they already love.” 

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