Over the years I’ve seen many memorable Benaroya Hall performances, starting with the 1998 opening concert with the Seattle Symphony playing Mozart. I’ve also watched Pearl Jam shake the rafters, Patti Smith spit on the stage, and Renée Fleming get five encores.
But before Friday night’s “Sonic Evolution” program, I’d never seen 40 women jump onstage in front of the symphony — at Sir Mix-A-Lot’s invitation — and shake their butts for 10 minutes to the sounds of hip-hop. It was an explosion of raucous energy unlike any symphony program at Benaroya before.
Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot said he has a goal to salute Seattle musical icons, so the evening was originally organized to debut three new works by young composers, all inspired by local rock, blues, or hip-hop. Composer Gabriel Prokofiev explained that his “Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot” was simply his reinterpretation of “urban folk music” much in the way Mozart worked the music of his era into compositions.
Prokofiev’s piece was challenging to play for the symphony, as it used tuba as percussion, but ultimately it worked. It was quickly overshadowed though when Mix-A-Lot himself came onstage for “Posse on Broadway.” “This is ‘orchestral maneuvers from the ‘hood,’” he joked.
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Next was “Baby Got Back,” and Mix asked if “a couple” of ladies could help him out. Soon the stage was quickly mobbed and the symphony hidden, and a party started.
Other new works in the program were Luis Tinoco’s “FrisLand” inspired by Bill Frisell, and Du Yun’s “Hundred Heads,” an homage to Ray Charles. Both had interesting textures, but in contrast to the Mix-A-Lot performance they were more traditional.
Retro-soul group Pickwick closed the night out with three songs played with the orchestra. The vocals and violas mixed for a perfect match.
Morlot once told me that SSO needs a younger crowd because youth represents its future patrons. From that standpoint, Friday — with a hundred teenagers in T-shirts in the audience — was a smashing success.
Attendee Amy Adams said the show was unlike anything she’d seen at the hall. “Just epic,” she said after the show. “It was a wonderful way to bring in people who don’t usually go to the symphony.”
Morlot asked the sold-out crowd how many were new to Benaroya. Two hundred attendees raised their hands, which means new blood.
Yet for everyone at Friday’s concert — new to Benaroya, patrons, or old vets — it was a night to celebrate. “Tell ‘em to shake it,” Mix-A-Lot urged.
And in Benaroya Hall, on the stage even, they did.
Charles R. Cross: email@example.com, charlesrcross.com, @charlesrcross