Westword Music Showcase: The Colorado Symphony to premiere Beck's Song Reader

Melanie Watson

This weekend at the Westword Music Showcase for the first time anywhere, the Colorado Symphony will perform songs from Beck's Song Reader. But not only does this mark the world premiere of these pieces, which were arranged by Jump, Little Children's Jay Clifford, it's the first time a professional ensemble of any kind has taken on these tunes which were published solely as notes on a page and open to creative interpretation. Buy your tickets now: this ground-breaking performance is one not to miss.

See also:
- Photos: Colorado Symphony and Nathaniel Rateliff rehearsing Beck's Song Reader
- Erik Berry of Trampled By Turtles on why they don't do O Brother Where Art Thou?
- Michael Vincze of the Mowgli's on what it means to be a Mowgli

The distance between pop and orchestral music isn't so great for Nick Recuber, bassist and assistant principal with the Colorado Symphony. "Beethoven and Mozart both started their careers by arranging popular songs," notes Recuber, who honed his chops in Philadelphia jazz bands long before joining the Colorado Symphony three years ago. "Beethoven put a lot of those songs in his symphonies. There's no excuse for a classical musician not to be aware of what's going on in pop music."

Eric Gruneisen
Nick Recuber (from left) and Nathaniel Rateliff rehearsing the Song Reader.

That's part of the idea behind this wholly unique collaborative performance: bringing Players from different musical worlds together to perform selections from the twenty tunes included in the transcribed "concept album," Song Reader, first published by Beck this past December. At the Curious Theater, the Symphony will be joined by some of Denver's biggest names, including Nathaniel Rateliff, Otis Taylor, members of the Hollyfelds, Julie Davis and Joseph Pope III.

Eric Gruneisen
Joseph Pope III rehearsing Beck's Song Reader with the Colorado Symphony.

"The musicians in the orchestra love this," says Tony Pierce, vice president of artistic administration for the Colorado Symphony. "It's us being a part of the community." This collaboration caps other joint projects with pop artists, such as DeVotchKa and Amanda Palmer, who, of course, played this past weekend at Red Rocks. "We have an ethical responsibility to be educating and playing and impacting all parts of the field," he adds. "We've got a string quartet playing with Trampled by Turtles the same day. I think the Colorado Symphony needs to employ itself in that way."

With its novel ties to the history of written music, this project offers a different kind of bridge for classical musicians. Beck published the Song Reader sheet music in December as arrangements solely for guitar and piano, but it didn't take long for the project to land on Recuber's radar. To him, the project hearkened back to the early days of popular music in America, a time before advents in technology made recordings readily available to the masses.

Eric Gruneisen
Members of the Colorado Symphony rehearsing Beck's Song Reader.

The idea was also closely linked to the history of orchestral music. Great masterworks by the Western world's most accomplished musical geniuses from centuries past persisted thanks to sheet music. That strain is what drove Recuber to float the idea of symphonic approach to the music to Pierce last winter. "I think it's such a cool idea," he declares. "You can't hear the album unless you know people who read music. It puts the symphony in a really cool position."

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It really is a shame a larger venue is not being utilized for this performance.  I do understand why it would be moved from the outdoor stage, given how terrible those stages sound for acts with even the slightest hint of dynamics -- let alone orchestral instrumentation -- but I think City Hall's outdoor stage could have been fun with the right sound reinforcement.

Rachel Norkin
Rachel Norkin

Ian, we may need to highlight this on the spreadsheet. ;)


Looking forward to this! Though I think that the Curious Theatre is going to have some capacity issues......

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