Behind the music

While recovering from a bad breakup, musician Nicholas Platoff sat in his room listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds for hours on end. A classical trombonist by training, Platoff appreciated the unexpected technicalities of the pop album’s composition. “The album is all instrumental, they used strings, a keyboard introduction, and percussion. … In the song God Only Knows, they even used a harpsichord.” Over time he realized the unique, melancholic emotions expressed traversed genres and cultures, blending quite nicely with German composer R. Strauss’ romantic symphony September.

Since then, it’s been his dream to blend the sounds of the symphony with unexpected but perfectly paired musical matches. For example, he found that by playing J.S. Bach’s orchestral masterpieces alongside hip hop legend J. Dilla’s timeless beats, that “Bach grooves really hard in the same way hip hop music grooves. … They’re totally aesthetically different but they both have that unifying groove factor.”

For Platoff, playing these musical legends side-by-side in a live, orchestral mashup has only ever been a fantasy. Until now. On Friday, the New World Symphony will be bringing that dream to life with MIXTAPE, a mashup concert spanning time and space. “There are several things about this concert that make it different. First and foremost, the program is hyper-eclectic,” Platoff said. “It’s very rare to go to a concert playing Classical music, the Beach Boys, jazz, and hip hop, all played by a single musical ensemble.”

This is part of the New World Symphony’s larger effort to engage with audiences in new and interesting ways. “One thing we talk about a lot is the stuffiness in classical music. You go and pay a bunch of money to sit and listen to a bunch of, historically, old white men in penguin suits playing music by other dead white men,” he said. “I mean don’t get me wrong, those pieces affect me on a level more than any other piece of music I’ve ever experienced. … But I can’t expect someone else to welcome Beethoven in their world the way I have if it’s in an uncomfortable way.”

At MIXTAPE, instead of wearing tuxedos, musicians will be able to wear clothes from their own wardrobes. And unlike other orchestral concerts, alcohol will be served before, during, and after the performance. After the show, The alt Default, a rock band made up of members of the New World Symphony, will be playing in the lobby for an after-party and musician meet and greet, which everyone is invited to.

But the real treat is the pre-show “Instrument Jungle.” Guests can meet the musicians and even get a quick lesson before the show starts. We were surprised to learn that the fellows play their own personal instruments on stage. And no single instrument is alike, as some hold sentimental value, and many of them have long histories. We had a rare opportunity to meet a few of the fellows and learn what makes their instruments so special to them.

Brent Foster, Bassoon Fellow

My instrument is from a German company called Heckel, and it was made in 1950. It was originally shipped to an American military orchestra in occupying Germany. After the war, it made its way to America. I’ve tried for years to figure out how, but I haven’t been able to. In the early 1990s, this bassoon was for sale and my high school teacher, who was in the Cleveland Orchestra, was interested in buying it. But a student of his bought it instead. Fast forward a decade to 2007, I was studying with him and the student was selling the bassoon. My teacher told me to go Michigan and get this instrument immediately. By that point, I had tried several bassoons, and none of them were what I wanted. I got this one and immediately I knew I wanted it. I’ve never wanted another bassoon since.

Jarrett McCourt, Tuba Fellow

I have two tubas — one I use for the orchestra and one I use to play solos by myself. I drove from Ontario, Canada, to South Bend, Indiana, where there’s a big brass store where you can try out of tubas in this big room. My high school music teacher actually came with my family to see what would be the best fit for me. That’s when I got my first one. Then, I needed something bigger because I was playing with bigger groups. So I ended up with something more professional at a store in Detroit. They’re really important to me because I had to work three jobs throughout school to be able to afford them. I think I worked so hard for it because it was like a feeling of being pushed up against a wall. I decided I wanted to do this and I was like, “Well, I’m going to do everything I can to make it happen.”

Meredith Bates, Cello Fellow

This cello has a lot of history. It’s very important to me because both of my most meaningful teachers played it. It was made for and played by my first music teacher, Orlando Cole. He was one of the first people to ever graduate from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in early 1924. He played on it for years. When he was too old to play, his assistant teacher, who I also studied with, played on it. When I was in high school, my teacher told me to use this cello in a concerto competition. I ended up winning and she told me to keep it.

Dan Morris, Percussion Fellow

I got my first drums when I was in 5th grade. My parents were apprehensive about it — they would have been happier with a clarinet player. I started with a snare drum, then I got a bass drum, and then I got the high hat cymbal. My set came to me in pieces, because my parents weren’t sure about the whole thing. So it’s been all over the place. This set doesn’t necessarily have sentimental value and that’s sort of different from other instruments, like a violin or a cello. You have more of a connection to it. But with drums, I’ve just amassed so much equipment over the years that I have very little sentimental attachment with this particular set.

Andrew Francois, Viola Fellow

This is a relatively young instrument. After I finished my undergrad, I was looking for a viola and this one had been made for someone else about a month prior. I had been searching for one just like this, but nothing had quite the right sound like this one. I picked it up and played it and fell in love — so I’ve actually just started the long journey of this viola. It has a beautiful, rich sound, and it’s a very deep maroon burgundy so, it’s also really interesting looking.