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Beatles songs, classical music mashed up in Alarm Will Sound’s innovative ‘1969’

Alarm Will Sound visits the Newman Center on April 23.

From the beginning, part of Alarm Will Sound’s musical mission was creating “event” concerts with elements of theater and overarching themes. With “1969,” the 20-piece, New York-based chamber orchestra has come the closest yet to realizing that initial vision, says artistic director and conductor Alan Pierson.

“Music, especially contemporary music, connects best to the audience when it is part of a completely conceived experience. The antithesis to that is the conventional new music concert, players sort of sitting on their seats and staring at music stands and trying not to get lost,” he says. “We learned that if you can make a concert that feels more like an event than just a program, there’s a whole different level of excitement and engagement that brings to an audience.”

Initially conceived when the orchestra was considering concerts based on the music of individual years, “1969” really came to life when Pierson read about a planned meeting between John Lennon and German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1969. The concert explores the cross-pollination between the classical and pop music worlds in the late 1960s and includes songs by Stockhausen, the Beatles, Luciano Berio and Leonard Bernstein. Actors play Lennon, Stockhausen and Berio, while projected visuals provide informative text and images that recall the tumultuous spirit of the time.

“The Beatles were fans of Stockhausen’s music; Stockhausen loved the Beatles. Paul McCartney went to a seminar taught by the then-contemporary composer Luciano Berio. Berio wrote a series of songs based on Beatles songs,” says Newman Center Executive Director Steve Seifert. “These kinds of musicians don’t compartmentalize. They don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m a pop musician, therefore all I like or all I listen to is pop music.’ Anybody who knows the Beatles knows that they were omnivores and they were very experimental and their music contains influences from Indian music and classical music and so on and so forth. You can’t listen to “Revolution 9” and tell me that that isn’t cutting-edge stuff. It’s a mix tape, basically. It’s ahead of its time.”

“Revolution 9,” not surprisingly, is performed in “1969,” along with Beatles classics “A Day in the Life” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The multimedia concert also features selections from Bernstein’s Mass and Stockhausen’s Hymnen, work by Miles Brown and Gavin Chuck, and music by Stefan Freund and Matt Marks. The concert also features Berio’s arrangement of the Beatles’ “Michelle,” which he originally prepared for singer Cathy Berberian.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted this to be an evening that had a script and combined music and visual images and theater in a thoroughly integrated, narratively driven event,” Pierson says. “As we’ve made the show better over time it’s really been satisfying to see how that affected the response from the audience. It’s very exciting to see people really get it and get the big ideas that we’re trying to look at.”

Alarm Will Sound’s “1969” begins at 7:30 p.m. April 23 in DU’s Newman Center, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. A free “Behind the Curtain” lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $32–$48; visit for more information.

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