There’s something fundamentally satisfying about hearing the cello-driven thump that anchors “I Am the Walrus” being performed by full orchestra. The music of the Beatles is permanently ingrained in our cultural DNA, so giving it a real orchestral treatment is as close to hearing it with a fresh pair of ears as possible.
Last Saturday night the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Martin Herman, performed a selection of classic Beatles tracks with the Classical Mystery Tour, a group of musicians who look and sound quite spookily similar to John, Paul, George and Ringo. A sold-out crowd responded with peals of applause to the hit parade, which included not unexpected choices such as “Hey Jude” and “Eleanor Rigby” as well as less likely songs such as “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
It’s easy to forget how much the Beatles used orchestral arrangements in their songs. “Hello Goodbye” wouldn’t sound right without the viola melody underneath the vocals, while the snazzy horn lines of “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” lift the song into sublime silliness. Indeed, the horn section of the BSO got to shine Saturday night, with everything from concert opener “Got To Get You Into My Life” to the poignant warmth of “The Long and Winding Road,” to the instantly recognizable trumpet solo in “Penny Lane.”
Several songs were left glaringly off the playlist, including the groundbreaking cello and trumpet arrangement of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and the clarinet-driven “When I’m 64,” the latter of which perhaps seeming too painfully appropriate to perform, given the average age of audience members. And while most concert-goers were undoubtedly aware of the fact that “Live and Let Die” and “Imagine” are not Beatles songs, their inclusion nevertheless was a fun departure.
Judging by the sold-out crowd and the overwhelmingly positive audience reception, it appears that it would serve the BSO and the Collins Center for the Arts well to bring in more pop concerts of this sort. It not only strengthens and expands the BSO’s audience — it also provides an important showcase for music outside of Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. Orchestras can play more than just the standard classical repertoire, and, especially in the case of the Beatles, such concerts can be as much fun for the symphony as for the audience.