Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready have teamed up for SSO’s annual Sonic Evolution concert, a tribute to musicians who embody the city’s spirit. The concert includes a new piece by McCready.
A few months after Ludovic Morlot took over the Seattle Symphony in 2011, he told me he wanted to change the perception of what happened inside the walls of Benaroya. “Great music is great music,” he said. “You can love Jimi Hendrix, and also love classical music.”
Morlot also cited a surprising list of Seattle rock legends he admired, including Soundgarden, Nirvana and Alice in Chains, and that maybe he’d invite them to work with him. “Pearl Jam, too,” he said.
Morlot’s ambitious plans turned into the Sonic Evolution series, which debuted in 2011 with tributes to Hendrix, Quincy Jones and Kurt Cobain. Last June, the series tapped into the viral video phenomenon when Sir Mix-A-Lot was recorded dancing on stage with a crowd of women.
8 p.m. Friday, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; sold out (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
With Friday’s program, Morlot makes good on including Pearl Jam. The concert includes the world premiere of a piece created by the band’s guitarist Mike McCready titled “Waking the Horizon.” Morlot will conduct the symphony but with a superstar Seattle band that includes McCready, Duff McKagan (Guns ‘N’ Roses), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), and Matt Cameron (Pearl Jam).
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The night also will include two more traditional pieces, both world premieres: Yann Robin’s “Ashes” and Angelique Poteat’s “Beyond Much Difference,” the latter inspired by Pearl Jam.
For McCready, the opportunity to write an original piece for the symphony was not something he imagined would come in his career. “It was such an honor when Ludovic asked me,” McCready said. “We’ve become close friends, and he’s very receptive to the rock world and he told me to create something unique.”
McCready’s “Waking the Horizon” runs seven minutes and also features members of the choir group Vocalpoint! Seattle. Scott Teske, director of Seattle Rock Orchestra, arranged it.
“It’s such a different thing for me to do, but also creatively rewarding,” McCready added, “At the same time, it’s been a challenge to think in a different way than the traditional rock verse-chorus-bridge composition.”
As composition commenced, McCready decided to press his luck with Morlot, and that led to the second half of Friday’s program. McCready had been in a band called Mad Season, which made an album in 1995. The band featured Barrett Martin, John Baker Saunders and Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley. Both Staley and Saunders would later die of drug addiction, ending the group.
The Mad Season album, however, has remained a mainstay of Seattle radio, and it was reissued in 2013. “I had always wanted to do something more with the record,” McCready said. “When Ludovic brought up Sonic Evolution, I thought maybe he would be interested in this, trying these songs.”
For McCready and Martin, the Mad Season orchestrations offer a new way to look at songs like “River of Deceit.” The idea works, Martin said, because the band had a “dark ambience” to its sound, in part due to the demons the songs confronted.
Martin played cello, upright bass, marimba and vibraphone on their 1994 recording. “It gave our songs a beautiful, haunting quality, which was very different from the heavy-rock grunge of Seattle in 1994,” Martin said.
For McCready, his symphony debut is thrilling, yet the Mad Season material still brings up some melancholy.
“Some of that record is very sad, because I listen to Layne singing about his struggle, and it’s a weird thing to relive that,” he said. “But it’s also important because it’s healing for everyone involved, and everyone who loves that record.”
There continues to be plenty of love in Seattle for the symphony (up for six Grammy Awards in the Feb. 8 ceremony), for Pearl Jam and for Mad Season. The Sonic Evolution concert sold out instantly, one of the fastest sellouts in Benaroya history.