In Project Symphony, Ari Picker plays matchmaker | Music Feature | Indy Week
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In Project Symphony, Ari Picker plays matchmaker 

At the inaugural Project Symphony performance, composer Ari Picker would like to connect “the classical musicians that don’t play in rock clubs and the rock musicians who don’t go lock themselves in rehearsal rooms all day.”

Picker, who fronts Lost in the Trees, wants to bring together high school musicians and professional players in his orchestra, and Triangle pop enthusiasts and classical music fans in his audience. “I think it’s exciting to get those people together.”

The project, which began in February, aims to foster the work of young modern composers by commissioning symphonies for an annual concert. Half the ticket sales from those concerts fund future commissions, and half will go to Chatham County Together!, a nonprofit that serves at-risk kids.

Picker often includes orchestral sketches in his songs for Lost in the Trees. He hopes the concert will allow him to share his enthusiasm for Bach, Berlioz, Beethoven and other composers he’s come to admire in his three years at the Berklee College of Music.

Picker’s first symphony anchors Saturday’s show, with opening sets from Lost in the Trees and Megafaun’s Phil Cook, who will perform some of his favorite piano pieces.

We talked with Picker about his first composition for a 60-person orchestra and taking classical music out of a classic setting.

Tell me about the symphony you wrote.

It’s four movements and the forms are all pretty typical for the genre, like the first movement for instance is a sonata form, and that’s followed by a theme and variations. The third movement is a minuet, and the last is a scherzo, which is like a dance. I was influenced a lot by some of Bach’s sons, like C.P.E. Bach, and then Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz. And then I have kind of a modern ear anyway, so the melodies are very filmesque. It’s all very tonal.

I wanted it to be kind of traditional, that’s what I was going for. I wanted it to be accessible and fun and bombastic and all that kind of stuff.

What made you want to keep it more traditional?

It’s my first symphony, so I wanted to follow the rules as much as possible, and stay true my introduction to the form, with the classical symphony and some of the Romantic influences.

Why did you start Project Symphony?

I didn’t study classical music at all until I went to Berklee three years ago. I was learning so much about it, I wanted my peers to get involved with it and have some of the same experiences and feelings that I was having at school.

What are the goals of this project?

It’s a two-part mission. One part is to have concerts that kind of combine classical music with other elements, and put the music in a little less of a traditional setting. And then we’re raising money for young, modern composers, and giving the other half of the money for a nonmusical cause.

I spend a lot of time working on my music and locking myself in a room and writing and thinking about myself and not other people, so I wanted a way to contribute that wasn’t about my music, and was about things that are equally important, where I didn’t have time to go volunteer there or go plant a tree there.

You mentioned taking classical music out of a traditional setting. How does that change the tone of a performance?

People might go into the whole thing with a different attitude. I know some of my friends are really excited about coming to see this, but maybe wouldn’t be excited if we were going to a symphony hall and they were taken there by their grandparents.

I just think it’s important to expose people to different things. And if their peers are involved and it’s exciting on more mainstream levels, people will be more willing to open their ears. It’s part education and part, ‘I’m bored from just going to normal rock concerts all the time.’

How did you get interested in classical music, coming from a pop background?

This is music that’s been around for hundreds of years, and you might think, What the hell, that’s not new. But it’s all new to me. I think I’m looking at it from such a different perspective that it is really new, for me, so I’m really excited about it. It’s almost contagious for me, and I want other people to latch on.

Ari Picker’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor premiers on Saturday, as the first commission of Project Symphony. The show starts at 7 p.m. in UNC’s Hill Hall Auditorium. Picker’s Lost in the Trees and Phil Cook of Megafaun open. Tickets are sold by section, and are $11 to $31.

More by Margaret Hair

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