By Lily Olason
This evening, Bellingham was treated to something special—the Seattle Rock Orchestra stopped by to collaborate with their friends at the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and the harmony, if I may, could not have been sweeter.
Led by artistic director, founder, and bassist Scott Teske, the SRO blends “the unabashed performance energy of rock’n’roll with the broader palette of musical nuances found in classical music.” And we couldn’t be happier they do. The orchestra threw the iconic energy of the Fab Four into the colander of “symphonic sound” and made something completely new, fresh, and exciting; it was like watching something bloom, a new substance taking root.
The orchestra’s subset ensemble, Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet, handpicked a few of their all-time favorite Beatles numbers to kick off the program. The selection was killer: led by vocalist Tamara Power-Drutis, classics like “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Dear Prudence,” “Honey Pie,” and “I Am The Walrus” took on new life. “I’m So Tired” particularly showcased Power-Drutis’s fantastic pipes: her timbre is Peggy Lee meets the ‘20s and her range outstandingly versatile. It overlaid wonderful work by the strings and some innovative arrangements beautifully. The percussive work on “Honey Pie” and “Sexy Sadie” was fabulous, as with the various violin, viola, and cello interludes that made each arrangement definitively new and timelessly brilliant.
After intermission, the WSO and the entirety of the SRO joined forces to perform a breathtaking array of material. Playing nearly every track from the last two Beatles albums (Let it Be and Abbey Road, respectively), the double ensemble was nothing short of fantastic. Featured vocalists Power-Drutis, Matt and Mike Gervais (of Seattle’s Mikey & Matty), and Miranda Zickler (of Bellingham's White Rabbit) brought a stellar collection of both harmony and solo to an already-magnificent instrumental performance. Starting with “Come Together,” and ending with a monumental 22-minute Abbey Road medley, this collaboration was giant in scope and absolutely superb in arrangement. The solo work by vocalist and musician alike was nearly too prolific to keep track—searing and sultry snippets from sax, trumpet, and drum set abounded—and the infinitely sweet strings kept steady and even beneath the current of moving parts.
The Gervais brothers gave outstanding two-part harmonies on tunes like “I Me Mine,” and that equally so in four-part and solo. Their stage presence was brilliant and it doesn’t hurt that their Lennon-esque hair gave a particular authenticity to the program. Zickler and Power-Drutis traded off powerhouse solos, too: Zickler’s work on “Oh, Darlin’” channeled Joplin and her oscillation between sweet and raspy is something other-worldly. Her “Let it Be” finale was, as to be expected, dazzling. Power-Drutis held to the lovely precedent she set earlier in the show on tunes like “The Long and Winding Road,” and “Her Majesty.”
This show was a first for both the WSO and the SRO—collabs are few and far between among such big groups, but tonight proves it can (and should) be done. The night was totally what it should have been: a big ball of fun with, of course, some marvelous musicianship holding it all together.
Though this was the last show for the WSO’s 2014-15 season, you can keep in touch at their website. The SRO’s next performance is its Spring Retreat on Orcas Island Memorial Day weekend. Check out their site to buy tickets and learn more.