When The Beatles broke up in 1970, any hope of seeing them live in concert evaporated, much to the dismay of Beatles fans everywhere. Then, with shows like “Beatlemania” and other tribute acts, the next best thing emerged — seeing musicians who looked and sounded like The Beatles playing their music.
Jim Owen, however, took things one step further when he created the Classical Mystery Tour, a symphonic romp through The Beatles’ discography, which will be performed by the Bay Atlantic Symphony for its 10th annual gala 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s Music Box Theater.
“When I was a kid, I thought what I wanted to do when I grew up was play Beatles’ music in the original style with the same instruments and the same vocals, which was not that far of a stretch from what I was doing with classical music,” Owen says.
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Owen is one of many who grew up idolizing the sound of The Beatles, but his early introduction to classical music gave him the know-how to eventually produce a show that fully realizes the instrumentals The Beatles used in their studio tracks.
“I was a kid here in Huntington Beach, Calif. in the ’70s. And I grew up in the house with my dad, and he would really only play classical music,” he explains. “I started taking classical piano lessons when I was 7 years old, so that was the only music I heard. My dad’s sister had to come out to California to help take care of the kids, me being one of them, and she brought her ’60s albums. Once she put on The Beatles, I was like, ‘who is that?’ I had to learn how to play guitar, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and started learning Beatles’ songs by ear when I was about 8 years old.”
Owen enthusiastically joined Beatles tribute bands when he was old enough, a passion that left him wanting more on the instrumental side of things.
“I had a friend who played saxophone, and I always asked him to sit in with us and play the saxophone solo on ‘Lady Madonna.’ He would never do it,” Owen laughs. “And I thought that would be so great if he would do it, and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to get a string quartet for ‘Yesterday,’ wouldn’t that sound great. Then I thought, well, you can’t stop there, we should get a big orchestra and we can do ‘I Am the Walrus’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’ and all these great songs.”
The result of these musings is a show that Maestro and Music Director of the Bay Atlantic Symphony Jed Gaylin clocked as the perfect fit for its anniversary gala. Supported by the PNC Arts Alive Initiative and the Borgata, the Gala is a fundraiser, with proceeds going to Bay Atlantic’s music education programs and community outreach initiatives.
“The Beatles are such classics, and it also happens to be the 50th anniversary of the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ album,” Gaylin says. “For our 10th Anniversary Gala, this was just a no-brainer. I don’t care what generation you are, The Beatles hit everyone.”
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Performers Tyson Kelly, Neil Candelora, Tom Teeley and Brendan Peleo-Lazar will serve as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, respectively. Their vocals will be matched with the sounds of the orchestra. While the show incorporates a number of Beatles songs, Owen lists his favorites as “A Day In The Life” and “Golden Slumbers.”
“The Beatles used all different kinds of sounds and instruments, which was highly innovative at that time. They brought in sitars from India and things like that. In fact, they could never fully tour with ‘Penny Lane’ because they would need a full orchestra,” Gaylin explains. “Everyone thought of them as revolutionary, but they also really loved and pulled from their tradition. You have this high piccolo trumpet that’s heard in their music, things like that go back to British culture. They would have heard it in things like Handel’s ‘Messiah.’”
Gaylin is hardly alone in his enthusiasm for the orchestral potential of a show stocked with Beatles’ music. Even regulars of the Bay Atlantic’s performances, people who are used to more traditional sounds, are looking forward to the Classical Mystery Tour.
“I was talking to some people who just love to hear Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and they’re all so excited,” Gaylin says. “It’s kind of like our big musical party.”