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Classical Mystery Tour with the DSO, 5 things to know
Jim Owen was a bit of a latecomer to the Beatles.
At bit too young, at 50, to have heard the group when it first came out, Owen was a young piano prodigy at the age of six growing up in California and more focused on his classical studies and ambitions to be a composer. But when he did hear the Beatles music, Owen "thought it was incredible" and found a way to fuse his musical loves in the Classical Mystery Tour, a band that specializes in playing Beatles songs with symphony orchestras.
With its 20th anniversary coming up in November, Classical Mystery Tour features musicians who played in the "Beatlemania" stage show, using the orchestral template for accurate representations of some of the Beatles' most intricate recordings. From his home in Huntingon Beach, Owen -- who's the group's John Lennon on rhythm guitar -- tells us he wants to keep his History Tour as Magical as possible...
Owens' idea for a Beatles show was partly inspired by hearing his parents and their friends talk about a desire for a reunion. "All throughout the 70s I remember hearing the adults talking about if the Beatles could get back together, who could offer them enough money -- 'cause they kept rejection millions -- all that stuff," Owen recalls. "Nobody could see the Beatles anymore. So with 'Beatlemania' it seemed like such an exciting thing to go see four people portray what they thought would be a Beatles concert. After the Broadway show closed I got involved wtih some of those guys, and we went from there."
The Beatles repertoire, Owen says, is an easy fit for orchestras. "The Beatles have a lot of music that uses orchestral instruments and orchestras, either in part or full," he explains. "Sometimes other tribute groups used keyboards or backing tracks, which I thought was not the best idea. I finally decided I wanted to try to it live; I was young enough not to realize how difficult that idea was, and we pretty quickly assembled a setlist we'd like to do -- 'I Am The Walrus,' 'The Long And Winding Road,' 'Penny Lane,' 'Eleanor Rigby'...The idea was we wanted not to rearrange the songs but to do them exactly as you remember hearing them on the recordings."
Magical History Tour has, at fans' request, also added some early Beatles songs, played by the group alone without the orchestra. "At the first few shows we did get some comments, 'How can you guys leave out that entire portion of the Beatles' career and catalog?' so we had to add one or two songs," Owen says. "Thankfully the orchestras are willing to indulge us while we do, for example, 'A Hard Day's Night,' where there's nothing for the orchestra to do -- except maybe some bongos and cowbells for the percussion players."
Reaction from the Beatles camp has been limited. "Nobody that I know of has seen this particular show with the orchestra -- no Ringo, Paul, Yoko, none of them," Owen says. But John Lennon's late first wife, Cynthia, did catch the show at one point in Germany. "She was doing another Beatles tribute musical, and she used to come visit us," Owen recalls. "She was such a nice person. She kept saying, 'It's great what you guys are doing -- so respectful, so nostalgic.' She kept trying to get Julian (Lennon's oldest son) to come and see us, but she couldn't. We met (original Beatles drummer) Pete Best out there as well, which was cool."
Owen is not, in the end, surprised that Classical Mystery Tour has been so successful. "I'm not from the original Beatles era, but their music grab me just like everybody else, even though I heard it in the 70s, after the fact," he explains. "And it's still happening. My kids, they're under 10 years old and my daughter's like, 'Daddy, I want to be a girl Beatle.' They grab people at any age."
Classical Mystery Tour with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra
10:45 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14; 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15; 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16.
Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Tickets are $19-$105.
Call 313-576-5111 or visit dso.org.
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