Q & A with the Oregon Symphony’s Led Zeppelin Tribute Conductor Brent Havens
Monday, April 20, 2015
The Music of Led Zeppelin is led by Berklee-trained arranger/conductor Brent Havens, an Arranger/Guest Conductor of eleven symphonic rock programs overall. Bridging the distance between rock ‘n’ roll and classical music, the show was Brent Havens’ creation. The show is amplified by a full rock band and accompanied by singer Randy Jackson’s vocals. Havens guest conducts the ensemble as they capture the full essence of Led Zeppelin.
Randy Jackson is former front man for the band Zebra. A New Orleans native, his band was later inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Randy was a guitarist and backup vocalist for Jefferson Airplane’s final tour in 1989.
I spent a few minutes on the phone with Havens this week. Here is a snippet of some of the questions I delved into.
How did you transition into rock symphonies?
I didn’t really transition into this because I’m not classically trained. My background is on the film scoring side of things. In 1995 I had the opportunity to work with the Virginia Symphony when they were looking to do something different and we first performed this show. We were in a 1000 seat venue because nobody knew what to expect. We sold out in a day!
After that, we knew we were on to something and started to reach out to other orchestras. The problem was, they had no idea how to market it. They didn’t think audience would want it. That was exactly my point, this was about building a new audience.
In 2003 we started working with a New York based music agent was known and trusted by orchestras. He worked with us to make connections. They trusted him, so they were willing to give us a try. We had to work to ensure they knew this was something different and needed to be advertised more on classic rock stations than classical stations. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary this year.
Do you think this kind of versatility will help sustain symphonies?
A lot of orchestras have rock series and what is happening there and when we perform with them, we are getting new people in the door. A lot of them.
Why the music of Led Zeppelin?
I feel like Led Zeppelin’s intricate rhythm patterns and unusual progressions contained within straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll makes them an ideal choice for scoring.
As the conductor, how do you interact with the orchestra in advance?
We are playing with world class musicians. They don’t need to learn anything new. They understand what we are doing. We will rehearse for about 90 minutes on the morning of the show. There isn’t a lot needed when you are working with such talented musicians.
How long have you been performing with Randy Jackson?
Since 1996, shortly after the first show. We put out the word and Randy’s manager sent a tape. At the first show in Virginia, we used a local and that helped the show. But when we realized we were on to something, we knew we needed someone who really got it.
Randy was in the band Zebra and they already did covers of Led Zeppelin so it was perfect – but to be clear, we are not just covering the band. When you have the symphony it takes it to a whole new level. And Jackson more than captures the spirit of legendary Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant.
How many shows will you perform this week?
This week? None. We ramp up next week and will have a combined 23 performances between now and June.
Tell me more about the concept of The Music of Led Zeppelin?
My concept was to take the music as close to the originals as we could and then add some colors to enhance what Zep had done. The wonderful thing with an orchestra is that you have an entire palette to call upon. The band is reproducing what Led Zeppelin did on the albums, verbatim, and then having an orchestra behind the band gives the music a richness, a whole different feel, a whole different sense of power.
What’s the most common interview question?
The very first question you started with.
Anything that you’d like to add?
We’ve pretty much covered everything. When you are at the show, relax be yourself. You are at a rock concert and you will know that from the first note we hit.
The Music of Led Zeppelin will feature 18 Zeppelin tunes, including “Stairway to Heaven,” “Heartbreaker,” “Black Dog” and “Immigrant Song.” Purchase tickets to The Music of Led Zeppelin here.
Related Slideshow: Symphony’s Showalter Feted at Gentleman-Callers Dinner
Whitebird's Walter Jaffe and Paul King, joined by their bird/company mascot Barney, and Thomas Lauderdale and Bob Speltz hosted a very special Pop-Up Gentleman-Callers Dinner Party for Scott Showalter, the new President of Oregon Symphony.