Zappa’s music is complex on many levels—rhythmically, thematically, ideologically, with an array of unusual instruments and instrumentation. What is your approach to preparing to rehearse and conduct The Yellow Shark?
Jayce Ogren: Preparing to perform Zappa’s music is definitely a huge challenge, from acquiring the scores and parts (which sounds easy, but is much more difficult than usual with Zappa!), planning a rehearsal schedule for more than a dozen pieces with varying instrumentations, and solving notational problems that seem impenetrable at first glance. There are rhythms in The Yellow Shark that are truly unplayable by any human being, and I’ve had to find creative ways to modify them while keeping the spirit of Zappa’s intent. Despite their fierce technical challenges, none of these pieces should sound difficult. Virtuosic? Absolutely. But my goal is that the musicians and I internalize and embrace all of Zappa’s quirks and roadblocks, so we can get to a place where the music grooves, bites, and howls—just like it should.
Joseph, you’ve taught a college-level course on Frank Zappa’s music for 17 years. What do you most want audiences to understand about Zappa’s approach to music?
Joseph Klein: I think audiences should be open to Zappa’s very eclectic sonic and aesthetic palette, which is evident even within his concert works. These works range from the most charming, pop-oriented tunes to rhythmically complex and harmonically dense modernist experimentations, to absurdist noise-oriented guided improvisations. Many of his works are also imbued with trenchant political and social commentary that, while addressing many of the issues of Zappa’s own time, are also (regrettably) just as timely today. Finally, audiences should expect a good dose of humor in these works—even Zappa’s most esoteric and “serious” works are full of irony, sarcasm, and self-deprecating wit.
Jayce, last season, Orchestra 2001 staged and played the monodrama Eight Songs for a Mad King and now, this season, The Yellow Shark. What interests you in restaging music that listeners may find challenging but that also represent ‘extra-musical’ demands on the ensemble? How to you think about bringing scores to life for a contemporary audience?
Ogren: I love opera, and I’ve conducted quite a lot of it, especially pieces that float between classical and pop idioms, like Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place and Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna. There’s just something so powerful about the synthesis of music, theater, and visual arts. We live in a visually-oriented world with so many engaging entertainment options, and so with Orchestra 2001 I’ve looked for projects where music and visual elements can work together organically. There is and always should be a place for music to stand alone. But in presenting Zappa’s music, I thought it was important that we put on a great show. On April 28 at The Fillmore, we’ll have the capability to bring together virtuosic classical musicians with stunning lighting and sound design. It will be a singular experience, and the first time all of these pieces will be performed together in Philadelphia.