Songwriter Ben Folds enjoys working with symphony orchestras
Pianist returns to the Deer Valley Music Festival
Musician, singer, songwriter, composer and photographer Ben Folds remembers performing in 2010 and 2014 with the Utah Symphony during each summer’s Deer Valley Music Festival.
“I love playing with symphony orchestras,” Folds said during a phone call from a car just outside of Washington, D.C., on his way to do a show with Regina Spektor. “I love seeing cities, towns and communities that have great symphonies, and I love playing in places that support them.”
Folds is ready for his return to the Deer Valley Music Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 29.
“It’s always a blast performing there,” he said.
Throughout his career, Folds has been a sort of musical chameleon. Not only does he perform with symphonies. He fronted his ‘90s rock band, Ben Folds Five, and has produced albums and songs for diverse artists such as Williams Shatner, “Weird Al” Yankovic and Amanda Palmer, to name a few.
“It didn’t occur to me that I would do so many things with music, but it didn’t occur to me not to do them,” he said. “I’ve always looked at these opportunities as a way to make new music, but also to learn something and have some fun.”
Wearing several musical hats is, to Folds, the whole idea of creativity.
“It drives on certain kinds of limitations, but at the same time, you have to watch out so you don’t eliminate artistic opportunities, because this is what leads us to new stuff,” he said.
Folds also keeps aware of how to approach the collaborations he has joined.
“I won’t got to them with a template that says. ‘I’m a rock musician, and this is what I’m supposed to do,’” he said. “I’m much more interested in not knowing what works.”
Moving from the pop and rock vein to writing concertos, which he was commissioned for by the Nashville Symphony in 2014, isn’t as drastic as it appears to be, Folds said.
“You have to make an adjustment in manners, vocabulary and behavior in every walk of life,” he said. “If you go out to a bar with your friends, you might loosen up your language. Then when you go into a bank, a church, or let’s say, speak to the Boy Scouts, you might want to change the way you talk, because [those situations] wouldn’t be like if you were in a bar doing [whatever] with your… friends.”
Still, Folds enjoys working with symphonies because he can express himself in different ways than he does as a rock musician.
“Sometimes it will surprise you at the irreverence you can apply to an orchestra, like it will surprise you at the beauty you can apply to a rock song,” he said. “It’s just knowing you have something to express, but also having good manners and common sense.
“When I play with a symphony orchestra, I’m not going to play a Dr. Dre cover. That would be stupid and not make any sense.”
At the same time, Fold said pop musicians have some great ideas that would benefit symphonies.
“We’re part of the contemporary pool of artists that symphony orchestras should feel free to pillage for new ideas,” he said. “It’s like science. If an artist comes in with and makes one new discovery that happens to work with pop music and, lo and behold, with the orchestra, then the orchestra gains [someting].”
Working with a bunch of musicians that have a single goal is another reason Folds enjoys playing with symphonies.
“These are big groups of people who have dedicated their lives working on their crafts, and none of them tend to be divas,” he said. “That’s so civilized and interesting to me.”
Although he’s been working with symphonies for more than a decade, Folds said there was a learning curve.
“It does take a while to get used to, because it’s like joining a fraternity,” he said. “You don’t know everyone’s names. You don’t know how they will act. They might haze you.”
If music wasn’t enough of a creative outlet, Folds is also an amateur photographer and a member of the Sony Artisans of Imagery.
He also was, for a short time, a photo editor for National Geographic.
“I like to make things and when my twins were born, I discovered that I was doing the typical ‘dad makes 10,000 photos with his digital camera’ thing,” he said. “I found that pretty boring, and didn’t know what I was going to do with all of these photos on all of these harddirives.”
So Folds decided to dive deeper into the hobby.
“There is something more personal about taking the photography seriously enough to speak about [my kids’] childhood, capture their stories and print lasting, archival pieces of quasi-art that spoke about their upbringing,” he said. “I found photography to be an opportunity to be involved with my kids, especially because they are great models before they grow up and become self-conscious.”
Dabbling in photography has given Folds a greater appreciation for his music.
“I remember not to take things about my music for granted and remember the simple joys,” he said. “I have a voice as a musical artist, which is not an accomplishment that can be made by all musicians. And that shows me that, while I’m good at taking photos, I’m not moving the needle in photography. But it has helped me to understand what I see with others’ photographs. That makes me try harder, which is awesome, and it helps me appreciate my music.”
The Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival will present Ben Folds at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, at Deer Valley Resort. After a sell-out performance in 2014, top Billboard and folk rock sensation Ben Folds is back by popular demand performing his greatest hits with the Utah Symphony. General admission tickets are available for $42. For information and tickets, visit http://www.deervalleymusicfestival.org.
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