The Magik*Magik orchestra was conceived over five years ago by Minna Choi as a classically trained ensemble to work as a studio group for rock musicians at singer/songwriter John Vanderslice's Tiny Telephones recording studio in the Mission District. However, they jumped into live performance soon after their formation with a concert in Herbst Theatre in August 2008 above, playing the music of John Adams, Arvo Part, Fred Frith, and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, who was in the audience.
Since that concert, various configurations of the Magik*Magik orchestra have performed on over 100 projects. According to their website, "Our varied collaborations include: 30+ recording projects, 40+ live performances, 2 film scores, 3 dance projects, 1 video game score, 5 weddings, 10+ fundraiser galas, 2 national tours, 3 online features, 6 children's programs, and 4 festival appearances." To celebrate all that successful activity, the group held an anniversary concert at Oakland's downtown Fox Theatre above last Friday called When We Were Young.
The rich evening was structured in three sets, with the orchestra accompanying a long list of rock stars they have worked with in the last five years. They were joined by the Oakland-based Pacific Boychoir Academy who were used for almost half the song arrangements, and whose brilliant musicianship and enthusiasm under director Kevin Fox just about stole the show.
The concert started with the chorus singing along with cellist Zoe Keating and the orchestra conducted by Oakland Symphony Music Director Michael Morgan in a beautiful arrangement of the Tears for Fears song, Mad World. The orchestra then showed off their classical chops with an excerpt from Terry Riley's In C. "These are the children of Terry Riley and John Adams" popped into my head more than once during the evening, as the amplified orchestra played brilliantly in just about every style imaginable.
In a 2011 interview by Ben Van Houten with Minna Choi at BayBridged (click here), she responds to his question about the challenge of collaborating with rock bands:
"The biggest challenge that we had to find a solution to early on is that most of the bands we work with don't read music, and most of the classical musicians we work with, don't improvise. So my job was to create systems that made it easy for both types of musicians to work together as seamlessly as possible. I'm happy that we've developed some really great tricks to help each group record together super efficiently and musically. I think bands have to be eased into the orchestral thing kind of in stages. There's a level of trust that has to be built up between the band, the arranger and the players."Choi has certainly been successful in creating that trust. As the Magik*Magik website notes: "To date, we have worked with 61 artists; of those, 41 had never worked with orchestra before. Of those 41 new artists, half returned within one year to work with the orchestra again [including The Dodos rock group above]."
John Vanderslice cohosted as an entertaining emcee, where he announced, "there is a terror for an indie rock band to work with Magik*Magik Orchestra, we’re all talking about it offstage.” Tom Krell of the band How To Dress Well above left used his near-falsetto to magical effect in Suicide Dream I and continued with a sweet cover of Janet Jackson's Again.
Joining Krell as an audience favorite was Diana Gameros (above center) singing a Spanish language set and Zach Rogue (above right) of the indy band Rogue Wave whose gentle, slowed-down cover of the Buddy Holly song Everyday was possibly my favorite moment of the evening.
We didn't stay for the final set because it was 10:45 and BART beckoned, but for a detailed account of the concert by Mike Frash with a host of great photos by Sam Heller and Sterling Munksgard, click here for a post on the Showbams site. And if you'd like to see the orchestra in action, they will be playing a classical program of premieres by young composers at Old First Church this Saturday evening (click here for more info).