On April 12, the fabulous thrash-metal guitarist Dave Mustaine — founder and leader of Megedeth — played with the San Diego Symphony. Two movements from The Four Seasons, Summer and Winter, and Bach’s “Air on the G String.” The link takes you to the Symphony’s page on the event, but you can also read a feature article on the concert here.
Mustaine might also have joined the orchestra for the “Ride of the Valkyries.” As we’ll see, they were a little coy in advance about whether that might happen. I’d assume it did. Too good an idea to pass up! Since the “Ride” is about as close to metal as classical music ever comes. Wonderfully close, I’d say, as someone who likes both genres.
If you go to the Symphony’s home page, you’ll see that they present themselves in a lively way, highlighting both classical and not so classical events, with striking graphics. I was a little surprised, when I went there a few days before the Mustaine event, to see that they weren’t highlighting it. Which I suspect was because it was sold out. Why waste eyeball time on your home page on something you don’t need to sell tickets for?
But I think that’s a mistake. You also want to tell the world what’s going on with you, what kind of orchestra you are, what you’re doing for the community. Even if people can’t buy tickets to see Mustaine, they should know he’s joining you. Builds your community ties in all kinds of ways.
Besides, if you managed to find the Mustaine page on the site — you had to go to the monthly calendar listing, and click on April 12 — you’d learn that the Symphony was urging you to check back in for standby tickets! Really a lapse, then, not to make the event easy to learn about.
But what really made me sad was the full program of Mustaine’s concert. Or, rather, the Symphony’s concert with Mustaine as the highlight. Here’s how they presented it on their Mustaine page:
MEGADETH’S DAVE MUSTAINE with SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY
A Classical Special Concert
Saturday, April 12, 8pm
Ken-David Masur, conductor
Dave Mustaine, guitar
BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture
VIVALDI: “Summer” and “Winter” from The Four Seasons
BACH: “Air” (on the G string) from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068
– Dave Mustaine, guitar
DVOŘÁK: Symphony No. 9: From the New World
THIS CONCERT IS NOW SOLD OUT! Check back with the Ticket Office periodically, as concert tickets may be turned back in, particularly on the day of the show. A ticket standby line will form at 6pm, two hours before the start of the concert.
So Dave Mustaine was sandwiched in between standard classical works, the Roman Carnival Overture and the New World Symphony.
Why? Two reasons occur to me. First, they maybe thought the metal fans who came to see Mustaine could be introduced to classical music. Though that rarely works. Some of the metal fans might find they liked Berlioz and Dvořák, but many won’t, and without the lure of Mustaine coming back for an encore, they might even leave.
Second — and now we’re talking gritty orchestra realism — the concert is profitable for the Symphony, but only if it doesn’t have to be rehearsed very much. One rehearsal. That’s the way to do it, to make it big on the bottom line. Standard operating procedure, for American orchestras. Do something off the classical track, even a standard pops concert, that’s sure to draw a full house, and rehearse it just once. As opposed to the main subscription concerts, which you’ll work hard on.
That means you want to pick pieces the musicians know well. And pieces you already have in your library! So you don’t have any expense for renting the music.
This being the case, some program like the one the Symphony did is more or less inevitable.
But what a shame! And so pointless, I’d think, in bringing a new audience in. Who would the Symphony attract to this concert. Metal fans, obviously. So then wouldn’t you want to program pieces metal fans would like? The “Ride of the Valkyries” is perfect. I’d start the concert with that. Really wow the crowd. Most of whom know the piece, from the movies or elsewhere. From the moment it starts, they’ll be in your pocket.
Then program other big, loud pieces, but also some quiet ones. Metal fans aren’t monochromatic. I remember interviewing someone from Sepultura. a really dark metal band popular in the early ’90s, and finding he loved Enigma, a European dance-music group that specialized in gorgeous, quiet, erotically ambient songs, with sampled Gregorian chant and even, in one song, a sample from a Maria Callas performance. This musician didn’t want this told to the world, because he thought it might hurt his image. But he’s not the only metal fan whose taste would go that way. I can imagine the Parsifal or Lohengrin preludes — on the Enigma tip — entrancing a metal audience.
And I might want to do the “Dance of the Seven Veils.” Plus contemporary music.
Another possibility is that you’d attract people with a wide-ranging pop sensibility, though of course tending toward indie stuff, noise, and very likely hiphop. So you could program a whole variety of classical pieces for them.
But for neither group does the New World Symphony make any sense. We’ve got to wake up about this stuff! We’ve got to know the people we’re trying to reach, and do things that make sense to them.
I’ve adapted this from something I wrote for Rock & Rap Confidential, the newsletter I mentioned in my last post. I learned about the Mustaine concert from something they sent out, and originally wrote my comments as an email to my friends who run the publication. Then at their request I expanded it so they could send it out to their readers.
I met Dave Mustaine once, when I interviewed him for Entertainment Weekly. Megadeth was playing in an outdoor Florida amphitheater, and I met Mustaine backstage after the concert. He and his wife had recently had their first child, and he walked around, soothing the baby, while we talked. Never think someone’s stage persona tells their whole story.
On the guitar, Mustaine is one of the most virtuosic musicians you’ll ever hear. Megdeth specialized in blistering, blazing, crystal-clear guitar solos, sometimes with two guitars playing in unison. Not easy to do. I’d love to hear what this terrific musician would do with Vivaldi.