High-brow music turned on its head.
BEIRUT: Philharmonix: The Vienna Berlin Music Club served up a raucous night of entertainment Wednesday at the usually sedate St. Louis Capuchin Church. Settling down in Beirut on their world tour, the seven-man band blends a cocktail of jazz, folk, Latin and pop with traditional classical music. "Anything goes, as long as it's fun," the ensemble's motto, sums them up perfectly.
Most of the night's program consisted of songs from their upcoming album, "The Vienna Berlin Music Club Vol. 1," which is set for a February release.
The performance was staged within the framework of the 10th edition of Beirut Chants, an annual music festival that holds daily choral and classical concerts in the lead-up to Christmas Eve -- all free of charge. By the time it winds down Saturday, this year's event will have held 28 performances.
The ensemble brings together members from the philharmonic orchestras of Vienna and Berlin, allowing them to play music and create arrangements and mashups that would never be performed by the larger traditional orchestras.
The Philharmonix is made up of Noah Bendrix-Balgley and Sebanstian Gurtler on violin, Thilo Fechner on viola, Stephan Koncz on cello, Odon Racz on double bass, Daniel Ottensamer on clarinet and Christoph Traxler on piano.
The show began with a lively mix of several movements from Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dances." The ensemble was clearly having a ball with their dramatic delivery as they played around with crescendos and diminuendos, varying tempo, plucking certain melody lines and adding glissandos.
Moving into more popular territory, the group gave a much-appreciated orchestral version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," cleverly arranged to use the different instruments to represent the various textures and tones of Mercury's voice.
Another winner with the audience was the seamless mashup of "Can't Take My Eyes off You," made famous by the pipes of Frank Sinatra, and Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." After a brief intermission, Gurtler returned to the stage singing the Russian opening lines of their original composition, "Russian Overture" -- which mingles a Rus-themed folk tune with Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance."
The Philharmonix performed all their pieces with flashy showmanship and close-knit intimacy, as though they were playing a small bar rather than a historic church.
They clapped and stamped their feet for extra percussion and encouraged audience members to clap along to jazz numbers. They added creative improvised elements -- such as when Racz spun his double bass around to drum on the back, or Gurtler used his muffled voice to make up for lack of a trumpet.
Choosing to get into the festive sprit, they performed two Christmas songs -- the slower "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," made familiar by Judi Garland, mixed with "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," by Monty Python's Eric Idle, and a unique version of Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad."
Between sets, Ottensamer shared amusing tidbits and anecdotes about the band and the songs they wrote. He explained that Gurtler's arrangement of "Feliz Navidad" emerged from his hatred of the original tune. Instead he decided to create an "anti-arrangement," in which very little of the music was actually played.
The clarinet was switched out for maracas, the viola for wooden spoons and the violins were strummed like guitars. The only proper melody came from the piano. The crowd received the unconventional performance very well, finding the humorous spirit infectious.
The show rounded off with a few a few jazz tunes -- Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" with the James Bond theme thrown in and a gypsy-jazz number by Satie, where the cello was bowed by a wooden spoon.
True to their motto, the Philharmonix delivered a fun night. The songs were catchy, the mashups cleverly executed and the musicians' talent a treat to behold. Their varied style left something for everyone and gave interesting spins on old favorites and well-worn classics.
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