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Interview:
Ben Folds with the DSO, 5 Things To Know
 

By GARY GRAFF
Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Ben Folds has come a long way from the piano pop revelation who surfaced more than 20 years ago.

His catalog of Ben Folds Five favorites -- including "Underground," "Battle Of Who Could Car Less" and "Brick" -- endures, but Folds has gone on to make more sophisticated and challenging work as a solo artist and collaborator, working with the likes of William Shatner, Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer and Weird Al Yankovic, as well as authors Nick Hornby and Neil Gaiman. The North Carolina-born Folds -- who spent time studying at MIchigan's Interlochen Center For the Arts -- also judged NBC's "The Sing-Off."

And he's branched into classical music, performing his songs with orchestras and also writing a commissioned piano concerto he debuted in 2014. All of this has made Folds something of a musical renaissance man, and he hit 50 this year feeling accomplished but also that there's quite a bit more to be done...

Playing with orchestras has become second nature for Folds after about a decade of performing with them. "It's sort of a work in progress," Folds says by phone from New York. "Every year I try to add some extra scores or charts that I think would work well for the orchestra. I'm getting to the point where there are ones I'm playing with for the second, third, sometime fourth time, and like any musician you start to have a bit of a relationship with them. For a pop musician it can be hostile territory sometimes. But I think I've been doing it enough to where it doesn't feel so much that way."

Folds also feels like his own playing and composing chops help him get past any resistance from the orchestra musicians. "I think the symphony orchestra has been subjected to some pretty bad pops concert experiences," he says. "They don't know what they'll get 'til you show up for the rehearsal, and then they're like, 'Oh, I wish someone could have subbed for me today.' Some of the time we start playing the charts and it's really good, really well-done and we don't cover the orchestra up wtih an electric rock band. I make sure all the scores we work wtih really leave room for the orchestra to really be part of it."

After his first piano concerto outing, Folds is anxious to get to work on another classical piece and incorporate the lessons he learned from the first outing. "I know a lot more now what to expect from the orchestra," Folds explains. "These are big groups; It's not like a normal rock band where things I hear can be accomplished in a moment. (Classical pieces) take time and they grow and live and you hear things in the second movement you want to tweak and change. I'm working on a second piano and orchestra piece right now, just pouring the footings, basically. Right now it's a bit of a mess, which is how it always goes. I would like to finish it by the end of the summer. That's my plan, but we'll see."

Folds is also working on another piece with yMusic -- with whom he recorded 2015's "So There" -- and he expects to make another pop recording of his own at some point, though he won't predict when. "Right now I'm just creating things," he says. "If the piano concerto that I'm working on lends itself to pop songs I may just stick them square in the middle of it for awhile and see how it feels. I'm not forcing anything."

At 50, Folds thinks that he's "doing pretty good," although he's feeling his age in some respects. "It hurts more," he says with a laugh. "I mean, I'm still a manual laborer. I go out and play and get my paycheck. And that hurts sometimes. I've had some issues with my hands -- all piano players do, and I play a lot harder than most people. So talk to me in 10 or 16 years and I'll probably hurt more. But I think I've become more and more at ease with myself as a performer. I think I can now do things the way I would've always liked to have done them, I've gotten a lot of feedback from the shows that for the last four or five years they've been getting better every time, and I think that may be right, which is gratifying."

Ben Folds with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

Orchestra Hall, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.

Tickets are $35-$110.

Call 313-576-5111 or visit dso.org.

Web Site: www.dso.org

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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