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Barockestra: Rocking the Classics
Published on Wednesday, 11 August 2010

4 stars

New Town Theatre (venue website)
5 - 29 Aug (not 17), 10:10pm (11:20pm)
Reviewed by Lee Zhuo Zhao

The central idea behind Barockestra is nothing new: re-interpreting and arranging classical music into more modern genres, in this case rock. Walter Murphy did it back in the 1970s with disco music – most famously A Fifth of Beethoven, which was used in the film Saturday Night Fever.  I always approach such things with care, since it's all too easy to convince yourself that simply playing some music in a radically different genre is ingenious.  But as soon as lead guitarist, vocalist and general mastermind of Barockestra, Steve Grant, launches into his guitar solo arrangement of Flight of the Bumblebee, I realised there was nothing to fear.

Firstly, Grant is an astonishingly talented electric guitarist. His finger work is jaw-dropping – not surprising though, given he has had a genuinely notable career in rock music. Grant was ably supported by the remainder of his band and a delightful wardrobe. The baroque-themed period costumes, complete with white tights, were a nice humorous touch, although there was no denying what sort of musical genre these guys were from when Grant reappeared in the second half with black leather trousers.

But what really shone through was the time and care spent on their songs and arrangements. Of particular note was the mash-up of many of Mozart's most well known tunes: brilliantly crafted, the riffs blended seamlessly into a single memorable medley.  I also enjoyed the segues from classical pieces to famous rock songs loosely based on the piece, for example Air on a G String to A Whiter Shade of Pale. And of course, Barockestra don't fail to notice the chord progressions in Pachebel's Canon in D appear all over the place in rock music – though there was a slight palm-to-face moment when they incorrectly identified Pachebel's first name as Joseph not Johann.

My only musical moan is that some of the arias they chose to arrange were outside the comfortable range for their singers: the top notes of the Queen of the Night's aria and Nessun Dorma both proved a struggle to sing.  That, however, didn't stop me from personally loving what Barockestra have created here.

But, I know this show won't appeal to everyone. It’s definitely on the rockier end of the rock-classical spectrum and, to state the obvious, it's not for anyone with an aversion to loud rock music; I did notice a few members of the audience looking a little startled as the band entered full blast. Conversely, the show is not a straight-up rock gig, and won't hold the interest of rock fans with little interest in classical music throughout. Although I see an argument to include a history of classical music and a Handel aria sung in the original style, they break the rhythm of the show and subdue the atmosphere. I'm also not wholly convinced by all the ballet dancing, as funny as it was watching four ballerinas gracefully gliding around on stage as a rock band shreds Swan Lake around them.

It was telling that despite adapting melodies from very well known classical pieces, the audience didn't begin interacting – cheering, clapping or singing along – until the band began riffing Smoke on the Water. Maybe classical music fans are too reserved. But if you're like me and sing both Don’t Stop Me Now and Ode to Joy (in the original German) in the shower, then I'm sure you will love Barockestra too; there's just something uniquely cool and hilarious about rocking out to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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