If violins and clarinets aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of David Bowie’s music, then you haven’t heard the Seattle Rock Orchestra. The 50-piece ensemble is bringing its Bowie tribute to Tacoma’s Pantages on Saturday and to Olympia’s Washington Center for the Performing Arts on Friday (Nov. 18). The performance is a reworking of the original show to memorialize and celebrate the artist with a full classical lineup and four vocalists.
“This was the show that we played in 2010 for our first concert in the Moore Theatre,” says director Scott Teske, who founded the group in 2008 and still plays electric bass. “It was a milestone in our career. So it has special significance for us.”
But since the group toured the show last fall, the significance soared off the charts with Bowie’s death in January. Now, Teske and his co-arranger, drummer Emily Westman, have revised the show, adding songs and switching them around to create something that’s at once a somber memorial and a joyful celebration.
And it’s working. Last Saturday’s show at the Kirkland Performance Center sold out.
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Songs include “Life on Mars,” “Starman,” “Let’s Dance,” “Young Americans” and “Space Oddity,” which contrasts a jangly acoustic guitar opening with choreographed string pizzicato and trumpet solos that end climbing into dissonance.
“The challenge is that Bowie’s music has such richness and complexity, such creative harmony and meter,” Teske says. “But it’s also a joy to develop a deeper relationship with his music because of the analysis that’s required to arrange it (for orchestra).”
It’s the orchestra’s second full show in Olympia, but the first in Tacoma, although the orchestra has closed out several First Night events in the Pantages before.
“We’ve fallen in love with that theater and the audience,” Teske says.
The Bowie tribute uses four vocal soloists: Zach Davidson, Erin Austin of indie pop band OK Sweetheart, Andrew Vait from the duo Sisters and Gaetana Gravallese of Each and All.
But the real appeal of Seattle Rock Orchestra, thinks Teske, is how it subverts stereotypes.
“People are a bit surprised at the energy we have, which you get from so many more musicians than in a rock band,” he says. “The audience really responds to the orchestra solos — maybe a guitar solo played on a viola or a trombone. People go wild. Maybe they didn’t know it was possible on those instruments, or just seeing something not considered a rock instrument bring that energy. We’re really playing rock ’n’ roll.”
Seattle Rock Orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18.
Where: Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $19-$35 general; $17-$32 senior, student and military; $10-$18 youth.
Information: 360-753-8585, washingtoncenter.org.