The closest the California folk-rock band Dawes has come to collaborating with an orchestra is actually not close at all.
The closest the California folk-rock band Dawes has come to working with an orchestra is actually not close at all.
"We've had a couple of horns players [on record] – actually, I don't even know if it's been more than one friend on a trumpet or saxophone," said singer Taylor Goldsmith on the phone Tuesday from a tour stop in Boston.
On Thursday night, that will change, as Dawes takes the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall stage with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the opening night of Pulse, a new concert series produced by the BSO and radio station WTMD-FM 89.7. Made possible by a grant from the Wallace Foundation, the series aims to bring the indie-rock crowd to the symphony through collaborations between established rock acts and the BSO. (Wye Oak, Dr. Dog and the Lone Bellow are also scheduled to participate on later dates.)
Dawes, a quintet that released its fourth album ("All Your Favorite Bands") in June, will perform a set of its own on Thursday, and so will the BSO. (The latter will perform Philip Glass' Symphony No. 3.) At the end of the show, the band and orchestra will perform together.
We spoke to Goldsmith about the opportunity, how Dawes is preparing and if series like Pulse can attract younger audiences to classical music. Below is a lightly edited version of the conversation.
What did you first think when you were approached about the Pulse series?
Honestly, it was a dream come true. There's so many records that we love that have strings or even full orchestras on them, like Randy Newman or different examples. But then also, we grew up going to shows — I guess every city has it — but in L.A., they did a series at the Hollywood Bowl where it'd be Belle and Sebastian with the philharmonic or Bright Eyes or whatever it was. It's like, "Wow, how cool would it be to have these rock 'n' roll songs you write in your bedroom be accompanied by an orchestra?" So when we were approached, it had been a distinct dream of ours, so to be a part of that is pretty exciting.
How have you all been preparing? How different is it from preparing for a regular gig?
Well, I mean other than a few phone calls with the conductor and the arranger [Nicholas Hersh], I don't know what to expect. He just said he's written out these charts and we're going to do our own thing. There's very subtle changes that we have to do with our music to make sure it all works together, but I think for the most part, we're just going to do what we do and he's going to follow us.
What's your personal relationship like with classical music?
Growing up, being a kid going to choir and theory class, I learned a lot about that side of music. And I even studied classical voice for a long time, and got familiar with some certain composers through that. I obviously loved it. But as much as I did have these dreams of, "Maybe some day I'll write a string chart," or something like that, I still haven't gotten there quite yet. I do hope to, and I feel like maybe an experience like this could be one step toward understanding how it's really done.
Do you have expectations for this experience?
We feel honored to have been invited to be a part of this, and we don't have really big expectations. We just want to make sure we do a good job so we don't make ourselves look bad in a situation like that. But otherwise, it's not like we've asked the arranger to send us charts so we can OK them. If what he does is very subtle and very minimal and kind of under the radar, then cool. And if it's very big and crazy and very involved and very in-your-face, then cool, we'll do that, too. I think because of the nature of this experience, I think we're open to whatever they have planned.
I think one of the driving forces to the Pulse series is to try and attract a younger audience to the symphony. With the way we consume music these days – on our phones and online – it seems like that could be an uphill battle. How possible is it to bridge that gap?
There's no denying that it's a much more challenging endeavor, you know? Listening to a three-minute pop song that gets stuck in your head right away is a lot easier than sitting down and listening to a 20-minute piece with no words. It's just the nature of it. But I do think it's the more you give, the more you get out of it. I think the people that are willing to invest the time and the money it costs to buy the ticket, I think that's going to be a much more enriching concert experience obviously than sitting around on your cell phone and listening to whatever iTunes just put out.
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But I do think through things like this and through records like the new Ben Folds record ["So There"], where he has his own classical compositions at the end of the record along with yMusic doing all of the string arrangements for the rest of it – I think things like that are going to bring that world more into people's awareness.
People that are looking for a deeper, more considered artistic experience, I think those people are out there. I think all they need to do is be reminded. I'm sure those are the same kids that are frequenting museums and keeping those places in business, and going to see all the foreign movies, or whatever! So you can't necessarily expect all of the Taylor Swift fans to show up, but I do think there is a demographic that might not realize it yet, but will love getting acquainted more with classical music. So yeah, it would be so wonderful if something like this could help the Baltimore Symphony have more people showing up. I don't know if that's what's going to happen, or maybe it's just a first step in a longer process that's going to end with that result. I don't know, but I guess that's my goal.
What are you looking forward to most about this performance?
Like I said, it's such a dream come true – just the fact that it's happening is already so incredible for us. Obviously, we want it to be beautiful and amazing. But I'm really confident it will be. We'll be talking to the conductor and going over the songs with him. It seems like he really has an understanding of where we're coming from. I just want us all to do a good job, because I think this can be a very memorable experience for us. It already has been so far.