THE DEAD SYMPHONY – West Coast premiere of symphonic tribute to the Grateful Dead

California Symphony presents
Lee Johnson’s Symphony No. 6 at the Lesher Center for the Arts

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

The West Coast premiere of LEE JOHNSON’S DEAD SYMPHONY: An Orchestral Tribute to the Music of the Grateful Dead will be presented on Sunday, January 25th and Monday, January 27th by Music Director Barry Jekowsky and the award-winning CALIFORNIA SYMPHONY. Also included is Stravinsky’s FIREBIRD SUITE. The DEAD SYMPHONY is comprised of twelve movements dedicated to the band’s super hits including: Saint Stephen, Here Comes Sunshine, Mountains of the Moon, Blues for Allah, Sugar Magnolia, To Lay Me Down, If I Had the World to Give, Stella Blue, Bird Song, and China Doll. As part of the California Symphony’s own Grateful Dead tribute, an exhibition of images of the band taken by noted photographer Herb Greene will be on display at the Bedford Gallery in the LESHER CENTER FOR THE ARTS until January 31st. Click here to purchase tickets on-line: SUNDAY, January 25th and MONDAY, January 27th.

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BARRY JEKOWSKY, Music Director — THE GRATEFUL DEAD (Photo, Herb Greene)

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The featured guests at each concert will be composer Lee Johnson, who will be visiting from Atlanta, and official Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally. Johnson will sign CDs of the DEAD SYMPHONY, released by Omi Records in 2007, and McNally will sign out-of-print hard copies of his New York Times best selling book, A LONG STRANGE TRIP: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead. Both will also participate in a panel discussion to be moderated by Jekowsky following each performance.

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THE DEAD SYMPHONY — A LONG STRANGE TRIP

Commissioned by Atlanta producer Mike Adams shortly after Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, the piece ultimately took ten years to complete – in part because Johnson first had to familiarize himself with the Dead’s extensive, ever-evolving repertoire. “This is a band that was in perpetual, spontaneous creation all the time,” he says. Johnson was also only four years old when Garcia, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Ron McKerenan, and Bill Kreutzmann formed the Grateful Dead in 1965. Even later, the award-winning composer, conductor and full-time college professor wasn’t paying that much attention to popular music. “I grew up studying ‘dead’ composers, but the other kinds – the Stravinskys, the Beethovens and all those,” he says with a laugh.

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THE GRATEFUL DEAD & LEE JOHNSON (Photos, Herb Greene and John Bazemore)

The DEAD SYMPHONY has enjoyed amazing support by the band’s legion of dedicated fans – the Deadheads. Many attended the world premiere in Baltimore in August. Says the composer, “The audience was electric. For an orchestral premiere, I’ve never seen anything like it. There were ovations between the movements! I think what the Grateful Dead did is such a part of more than one generation. It’s long overdue to be taken as a phenomenon beyond the music itself, and in my case, out came a symphony.”

“Although a basic five-chord rock ‘n’ roll band, the Grateful Dead ‘s multiple-time signatures, harmonies and rhythms have had its fans swearing for decades that they could hear the sounds of Beethoven and other classical composers echoing throughout the music,” John Rogers of the Associated Press noted in 2007. “No one took them very seriously, apparently, until Johnson; perhaps, he says, because adapting the music to a classical format was no simple task. If there was one constant in the Grateful Dead ‘s approximately 2,500 concerts, it was that the band – partial to long, experimental jams – rarely played the same song the same way twice.”

Click here to purchase tickets on-line: SUNDAY, January 25th and MONDAY, January 27th.

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RECOMMENDED CDs – Stravinsky’s The Firebird & Rocking the Cradle, Egypt 1978

Add these items to your Library. Click on the title to purchase on-line:

CD: LEE JOHNSON – Symphony No. 6: The Dead Symphony. Composer Lee Johnson conducts the Russian National Symphony in this orchestral tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead.

A LONG STRANGE TRIP: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, by Dennis McNally. An intimate journey with the San Francisco band’s publicist, full of intimate details.

CD: STRAVINSKY – The Firebird Suite – Robert Shaw conducts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in this production from Telarc. Disc includes PRINCE IGOR – the Overture and Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin.

ROCKING THE CRADLE: Egypt 1978 – 2 CD/1 DVD Box Set. Live, original recording remastered. The Grateful Dead’s historic concerts at Giza. More than 3 hours of previously unreleased music plus over 100 minutes of previously unseen concert and behind the scenes footage.

Visit Seán on YouTube:
Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
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See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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