Stewart Copeland, one of the most recognizable drummers of all time – known best for his performances with his former band The Police – will be playing at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 4-5 at 8 p.m.
Emanating beats from his trap set, Copeland will join the San Antonio Symphony‘s 60-piece orchestra onstage for his concerto “The Tyrant’s Crush,” a work that celebrates the collaboration between drummer and orchestral ensemble, showcasing the somewhat surprising but seamless connection of the two. The show, which meshes rock with classical music, first premiered in February with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall.
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In addition to playing and composing for The Police, Copeland has also worked with opera and ballet companies, orchestras, and directors on around 40 films and TV series since 1984. He has put together award-winning scores for films such as William Wyler’s Ben-Hur, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, and Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish.
The Police, made up of Sting (vocals), Copeland (drums, percussion) and Andy Summers (guitar), formed in London in 1977. Known for combining controlled energy and evocative melodies, the band played a style of rock influenced by jazz, punk, and reggae. Their signature blend made them a defining rock group in the ’70s and ’80s and launched them onto the world stage. Although the group disbanded in 1986, the band members reunited one last time in 2007 for a world tour that lasted until 2008.
“It was better than we thought it would be and worse than we thought it would be,” Copeland told the Rivard Report about The Police’s 2007-2008 reunion tour. “It was exciting to play that music for people who hadn’t heard it in a long time … 80,000 people lit up to hear ‘Roxanne‘ and ‘Message in a Bottle.’”
The caveat to that excitement, Copeland said, was that the band grew apart during the many years in between, and “we weren’t the same musicians we were 30 years ago.” Embarking on their own career paths after the group members went their separate ways, they weren’t in the habit of collaborating in the same way, “but because of all the cool stuff we learned (during the time apart), we made it work onstage.”
There’s also an element of negotiation that comes with being in a rock band, Copeland added, which is inexistent in his current work with the symphony. “Now I’m used to 60 guys who study the page, and there’s no negotiation at all.”
“The Tyrant’s Crush” is all about the emotional rise and fall of a dictator who gains power, exerts it for some time, but then everything goes wrong. It is divided into three movements: it starts with “Poltroons in Paradise,” followed by “Monster Just Needed Love” and “Over the Wall.”
The story is revealed in the titles of the movements, Copeland said, with the first part focusing on the backs of the revolution in the new regime, which then turns into a contemplative piece in the second movement, and ends with the tyrant meeting his fate.
“The main challenge of writing orchestral music is that you have to get it all in your head to get it onto the page,” Copeland said. “…you don’t hear it until you assemble 60 guys together … and that’s the first time you physically hear it … orchestral music is all about the homework, (and when) the score is all done it’s a beautiful thing.”
The musician and composer said he enjoys “seeing the dots on the page,” and that orchestral music is a lot of fun to play with. As to his role on the drums for the performance, he said he enjoys improvising throughout the piece.
“He makes, really, an orchestra go rock and roll without making it a backdrop to a rock band … the orchestra (is) the essential rock band,” said San Antonio Symphony Music Director and Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing in a video preview of the performance.
Below, you can view the full interview with Lang-Lessing about the forthcoming performance:
This isn’t Copeland’s first time collaborating with the San Antonio Symphony. In 2015, the symphony performed Copeland’s “Gamelan D’ Drum,” while he watched from the audience.
“I wrote it for them to play – they know what they’re good at, they’re great readers, get it really quickly, and they nailed the last piece,” Copeland said.
The fun part that comes with performing “The Tyrants Crush” in San Antonio, Copeland said, is that he sees himself as a pirate sneaking into an environment of classical music. Calling the orchestra “a magnificent instrument,” he said he’s looking forward to making the performance “more like a rock show,” giving the audience an opportunity to make as much noise as they want to.
“My show is a celebration,” he said.
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