The Symphony meets ‘The King of Pop’
When Michael Jackson died on June 29, 2009, he left behind a musical legacy that included 13 Grammy Awards, two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Jackson 5 and a solo artist and the American Music Award for Artist of the Century.
In his lifetime, Jackson, who was born Aug. 29, 1958, sold an estimated 750 million records sold worldwide and saw 13 of his hits reach No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100, according to Billboard magazine.
Regardless of his personal trials that included bouts with substance abuse and allegations of abuse, Jackson was known to the world as "The King of Pop."
The Utah Symphony, conducted by Brent Havens, will present "The Music of Michael Jackson" at the Deer Valley Music Festival on Saturday, July 14, at the Snow Park Amphitheater. The music will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Havens, founder of Windborne Music, which also produces symphony concerts with the music of The Who and Queen, conceived the idea of "The Music of Michael Jackson" shortly after the entertainer’s death.
"When Michael Jackson passed away, I had orchestras asking me if it was possible to do a show like this," Havens said during an interview with The Park Record. "We currently have seven different shows and we’ve been out to Utah four or five times with our mainly classic-rock shows Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Doors, Eagles and Queen and that kind of stuff. But when I thought about Michael Jackson, I took a look and listened to his catalog and big hits and decided doing a new show would be a great way to pay homage to an amazing performer and songwriter."
The symphony will perform 18 of Jackson’s songs, which were arranged for the orchestra by Havens.
"We do ‘Thriller’ and that works fantastically with the orchestra and, obviously, there are pieces like ‘Earth Song’ that are nice, big ballads where the orchestra can just wail on," he said. "It’s a fun show for people to come out and hear and to get the people dancing."
When Havens began choosing pieces for the show, he thought he had a favorite Michael Jackson song.
"As I listened, I kept saying to myself, ‘Well, that’s a great song, too’ and ‘I like this one as well,’" he said. "And the Jackson 5 stuff just soars, so I can’t choose."
Although Havens didn’t face a lot of challenges adding strings to the songs that were harmonically structured for orchestrations, he did struggle with some of Jackson’s dance-beat tunes.
"He had a couple of groove tunes that were difficult to do, because they don’t change much harmonically," Havens explained. "They basically just have a groove and lick, and since it was nearly impossible for the orchestra to do something with those, I avoided them."
Still, there was a plethora of musical possibilities when Havens began listening to the Jackson 5, the group that made its major recording debut when Jackson was 10.
"The songs he did with the that group and some of his early solo songs were great and work so well with the orchestra. A lot of the tunes that have some richness in the chords and the music itself are great and I found they worked the best with the orchestrations."
Although the symphony is playing these songs, Havens emphasized that the musicians were "not putting a classical flair" on the pieces.
"We incorporate the orchestra into Michael’s music, and some of those songs already had strings and brass in them on the original recordings," Havens said. "The ones that didn’t have those elements will now have a 50-piece orchestra on them, which will just add color and give them a completely different flavor.
"We also have James Delisco out front singing who does a phenomenal job."
Delisco, Havens said, was inspired by Jackson at an early age.
"We found James after we sent the word out that we were looking for a guy that could handle Michael’s music," Havens said. "I wasn’t looking for an impersonator, and that’s something I want to make clear. James does not do an impersonation of Michael Jackson, but pays homage to him and his music."
That’s not to say that James won’t throw in a moonwalk or two.
"James has some of Michael’s signature moves that he’ll do, but if people are coming expecting him to be dressed in all the costumes Michael was known for at the end of his life, that’s not what this is. It is, instead, a celebration."
The Utah Symphony, conducted by Brent Havens, will present The Music of Michael Jackson at the Snow Park Amphitheater at Deer Valley on Saturday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. The concert will feature vocalist James Delisco. Tickets range from $60 to $85 for reserved seating and are $32 for lawn seating. Tickets can be purchased by phone by calling (801) 533-NOTE, in person at the Abravanel Hall ticket office, or online by visiting http://www.usuo.org. Tickets are also available at Deer Valley Signature’s stores. Call (435) 649-1000 for store hours. Ticket prices will increase $5 when purchased on the day of the performance.
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