SPCO concerts mix spiritual and secular, rock and classical

Composer William Brittelle
Composer William Brittelle is classically trained, but is also known in rock circles for his work with his band 'The Blondes.'
Stephen Taylor | Courtesy Liquid Music

Rock and classical musicians will share the stage in Minneapolis Wednesday evening in an exploration of secular spirituality.

The alternative rock band Wye Oak will join classically-trained players to perform an art song cycle called "Spiritual America." It's the first concert in the new Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra "Liquid Music" series.

Classically-trained musician William Brittelle grew up in a deeply religious home, but his family later set that aside. Battelle's "Spiritual America" reflects his continuing search for meaning outside formal religious organizations.

"Everybody says 'Well, I'm not religious, I'm spiritual,'" he said. "What does that actually mean?"

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Brittelle, who also sang lead vocals in a post-punk band called The Blondes, says bridging classical and rock sometimes leaves him frustrated.

"If I am writing for orchestra," he said, "I'm sort of like 'Please let me use key boards on this! Please let me user the guitar! Why can't I put vocals on it if it's an orchestra?'"

The show will be performed with violin, viola, cello, double bass, synthesizer, guitar, drums and vocals.

Brittelle's take on secular spirituality is just part of the concert. It will be complemented by an exploration of the music of alt rock duo Wye Oak. The band's vocalist, Jenn Wasner, sees a natural fit.

Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are Wye Oak
The two members of Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, will perform on chamber arrangements of songs from their album ''Shriek'' at the first concert of the 2105-16 Liquid Music series.
Courtesy Liquid Music

"Finding the beauty and the magic and whatever you could consider to be sacred in your life and in your existence is something that I try and work into my songs," she said.

Wye Oak worked with Brittelle and the Alabama Symphony to adapt songs from the band's album "Shriek" for full orchestra. Wednesday's "Liquid Music" event at Aria in downtown Minneapolis will be a chamber performance.

Wasner and fellow band member Andy Stack will play Wednesday night. They'll be joined by composer Michi Wiancko, who also adapted some of the Wye Oak songs.

Musician and composer Michi Wiancko
Musician and composer Michi Wiancko will play with both the musicians assembled for "Spiritual America" and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra during her visit to Minnesota this week.
Courtesy Liquid Music

"I probably listened to their songs 30 times each every single day in an attempt to internalize the music so I could start arranging them bit also because I was a huge fan at that point," she said.

Wiancko switched out synthesizer parts for harpsichord and created baroque-style pieces. She will stick around and play with the full SPCO at the end of the week, too, including her arrangement of Prokofiev's "Five Melodies." She says it's a rare experience to play such different events with one orchestra.

"I've never come across an organization or a musical entity that was able to engage all the musical sides of me," she said.

Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner says she believes this concert counters the notion that classical organizations are stuffy.

"Although I will say that getting to tell my parents and grandparents that I'm playing with orchestras definitely goes a long way towards helping them think that I do have a real career as a musician," she said.