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On January 13, 2017, the Go-Go Symphony will perform the world premiere of “JuJu Symphony” and “Down With You,” two pieces that mark the first ever collaboration between a go-go music celebrity and classical composers.
Juju House (aka Juju), drummer of famed go-go band Experience Unlimited (EU), collaborated with other Go-Go Symphony composers Liza Figueroa Kravinsky, Joshua Cruse, and Andrew Velez to produce these two powerful dance pieces.
“When Juju said he wanted to join the Go-Go Symphony ensemble, I just about fainted,” says Kravinsky, “He’s famous and successful. I couldn’t believe he wanted to work from scratch with us.”
She may have been intimidated by the fact that Juju has also played for Grace Jones (“Slave To The Rhythm”), Chaka Khan, Chuck Brown, and Dionne Farris. However, the Go-Go Symphony already has a budding reputation from its critically acclaimed sell out performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and other venues.
JuJu explains, “This is something of taking go-go and being able to broaden it into different elements, but still using my own flavor. That’s what it’s always been about. Being able to blend and properly deliver all the colors together.”
“Collaborating with Juju on a symphony has been quite eye opening,” explains Liza. “I’m learning a lot about rhythm and other things that classical musicians don’t normally think about. Go-Go has a lot to offer the to the classical world.”
Influential classical music blogger and critic Greg Sandow continues to sing praises of the Go-Go Symphony, challenging the Kennedy Center to put their show on their stage. Sandow blogs about the future of classical music, and often writes about the Go-Go Symphony as an example of how to revitalize the troubled classical music scene.
Read his blog here:
Here are some other blogs about the Go-Go Symphony by Greg Sandow and guest blogger Liza Figueroa Kravinsky:
The Go-Go Symphony had the honor of performing for the Radio Television Congressional Correspondents Dinner on June 12, 2014. A celebration between members of the United States Congress and the radio and television news media, the event featured celebrity Nick Offerman and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Sharing the stage was guest MC Head-Roc, “the Mayor of DC Hiphop” and go-go beat ya feet dance group “Da Originalz.”
The Go-Go Symphony has been quite visible in the press recently.
Highlights include coverage by the Washington Post, Washington Informer, and On Tap magazine.
Here are some highlighted quotes from the coverage:
“The buzz is exciting, and I’m also hearing about word of mouth spreading about us. We’re very excited,” said Go-Go Symphony founder Liza Figueroa Kravinsky.
Says Washington Post
The Capital City Symphony, along with members of the Go-Go Symphony ensemble, performed the first ever fully orchestrated Go-Go Symphony and received a standing ovation, three curtain calls, and rave reviews.
The Go-Go Symphony “definitely cranked” when they opened for the legendary go-go band Trouble Funk at the 9:30 Club on January 17, 2014, wrote a major go-go blog DC Brand 99 in Jan. 18 article “Trouble Funk: The Timeless Treasure.”
This was the first positive review received by the Go-Go Symphony. “I’m totally thrilled,” said composer/founder Liza Figueroa Kravinsky, “We’re getting posted on Facebook and Instagram from some of the celebrities that performed with us. Nothing like genuine buzz.”
The performance also resulted in a Washington City Paper interview of Kravinsky. A commenter on the article who was at the show said he/she was “blown away.”
The event was a video release party for Trouble Funk’s new single “Hump Day.” Go-go bands Be’la Dona and Sugar Bear of EU will also perform that night. Guest stars include White Boy and James Funk of Rare Essence, Buggs of Junk Yard, and Big G of Backyard Band.
Doors open at 9 pm at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW, Washington DC. Tickets are $20.
The Go-Go Symphony threw a great party at the National Mall on June 30. Here is what audience member Carol Young had to say about the show:
“So, here’s what I observed — kids were sad to leave the concert when their parents pulled them away and kids dragged their parents from the museums to listen to the music. You quintupled (5X) the number of people from start to finish. People listened as they walked to from museums along the venue — i.e. they danced, bounced their heads, tapped/clapped their hands, or they danced/walked as it were.”
“About the music, I most enjoyed your pieces the “alright we’re going to try something new school” sounded really interesting — sometimes Latin, Middle Eastern, then like a band – it was intriguing in a cool way not weird, this is NOT really music way. Your music told a story – took us to some new places, got us excited and interested in go go and symphony music. Your leading with the violin was super duper cool. Overall it was breath taking — like, WOW, you’re doing your art and it’s making a difference in SO many peoples’ lives right in the nation’s capital. I wanted to hear even more of the juxtaposition of the orchestral music and a plug for the jam sessions at Dupont Circle.”
The Go-Go Symphony is considered a maverick project in the classical music world, according to classical music critic and expert Greg Sandow. Sandow recalls his thoughts when he first heard about the project:
“It didn’t simply combine pop and classical music — that’s been done quite a lot — but also brought together pop and classical musicians. And in a long-term collaboration, not just as a one-shot, like Grizzly Bear playing with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, or Elvis Costello creating The Juliet Letters with the Brodsky Quartet.”
“Still more: the style of pop music involved in Liza’s piece is something with fierce local roots in the place where the project is happening. ”
“All these things are rare, if not unique. And they give the project a kind of street energy not always found in pop/classical collaborations.”
“Take Me Out To The Go-Go,” the premier news magazine and website for Washington DC’s go-go community, interviewed Liza Figueroa Kravinsky, founder of the Go-Go Symphony. Journalist Kato Hammond introduced the interview by comparing the Go-Go Symphony with the National Symphony Orchestra’s historic performance with go-go innovator Chuck Brown:
“On the evening of September 4, 2011, the go-go culture experienced its very first taste of enjoying their favorite style of music performed on a classical platform when the National Symphony Orchestra did something different and invited Chuck Brown to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capital… The biggest thing that this event proved to us was that only is Go-Go recognized as an art form in the family of music, but it can be presented within many different cultures.”
“And that’s what brings us to this interview session right here. Today, we put the spotlight on a woman who not only decided to take that concept a step further, but is also no stranger herself to Go-Go music and its culture. Liza Figueroa Kravinsky is the founder of a musical ensemble who’s objective is to do just that. This musical ensemble that I speak of? The Go-Go Symphony.”
After a decades long detour into pop and commercial music, I have recently returned to the classical music world where I began as a composer. I was surprised to learn what had become of the classical music world during my absence. Orchestras going bankrupt? Shrinking audiences? Wow! On top of that, I hear talk of incorporating more popular forms of music to revive the scene. Maybe my detour wasn’t such a detour after all. From my point of view, I think there is more hope than you may realize.
I saw that for myself at a recent pops concert in Washington DC. The fans were ready to dance and clap even before the orchestra started playing. Then the music began — first with a melody; and then with the beat the crowd had been aching for. They cheered.
“I can’t believe the orchestra is playing go-go! I can’t believe the orchestra is playing go-go!” a woman beside me kept repeating in awe. She was verbalizing the thoughts and feelings I sensed in the audience.
She and I were part of thousands who gathered on September 4, 2011 to hear the National Symphony Orchestra play with Chuck Brown, who invented go-go music. Go-go music is a sub genre of funk that has been extremely popular in the Washington, DC area since the 1970′s, especially with African Americans. Its main feature is live funky polyrhythm — endless amounts of it — with drums, congas, cowbells, timbales, rototoms, and tambourines. It also uses improvisation and audience call and response. The beat never stops during a show; one song just morphs into the next.
So far, go-go itself has not become famous outside of DC; but its fans have been loyal for decades. When Brown passed away last spring, thousands came to his funeral service to say goodbye. His beat lives on through other go-go bands and in music around the world. You are probably familiar with this hypnotic swinging beat; it’s all over today’s hiphop, R&B, and alternative rock music. It is the foundation for human beatboxing.
Go-go fans were always proud when Chuck received honors like a Grammy nomination, and now a symphony orchestra pops concert. In their minds, this event is huge like that.
Even Chuck Brown couldn’t believe “the orchestra” was playing go-go. Local ABC News reported, “Asked if he thought he’d ever be playing with the National Symphony, Brown says, ‘No, no, no. I didn’t think I’d be playing on the Capitol grounds let alone with a symphony orchestra… That’s going to be the experience of a lifetime for me,’ Brown says. ‘That’s something I never dreamed I would be doing.’”
These are thoughts and feelings I do not hear much about when classical music experts lament the state of today’s classical music. Only the insiders seem to be aware that classical music is in “crisis.” To the average music fan, symphony orchestras are still relevant and glamorous. So glamorous, that having an orchestra play your music means you’ve arrived. After all, in their minds, symphony orchestras still represent the music of the rich and classy. Symphony orchestras are big and awesome and have tons of violins. They make the Star Wars movies feel more epic and raise our adrenaline when we play video games.
So the good news about classical music is that most music fans love and respect symphony orchestras from a distance, even if they can’t always relate to them. All we composers have to do is find a way to speak their musical language. So cheer up, folks. The glass is half full.
However, in our search for creative solutions, we need to read the cues. This successful go-go pops concert was a hint. The crowd was saying, “You’re getting warmer.” Yes, it was “just a pops concert,” but how can we get even warmer than that?
This is why a few years ago I decided to compose a go-go symphony, which combines the go-go beat with original classical symphonic music. Ideally, it would be a full symphony orchestra you can dance to, complete with endless funky polyrhythm. More often, it will be a partial barebones orchestra – brass, woodwinds and percussion — to get the ball rolling in clubs, parks, and festivals; and to build an audience. This group will then be able to attach to complete symphony orchestras for the full effect.
There is another reason I’m organizing this ensemble. To tell you the truth, I appreciated the National Symphony Orchestra’s gesture, but they didn’t quite get the feel of the beat. So I am learning to work with the only musicians who know the feel – go-go musicians from the DC neighborhoods – even if they are not classically trained. Good thing we can communicate with audio files these days.
You should see the diversity in this group! All ages, ethnicities, economic backgrounds. One kid, who has to be about sixteen years old, wants to join; but his mother is afraid to let him venture out into Virginia from Washington DC. The go-go musicians are really excited and want to learn to read music better. They love the idea of playing in a classical symphony orchestra and they think it’s a big honor.
The classical musicians are equally excited. They think this is something different; something the average person would like. This is because we are changing the music itself; by artfully using the music of the local popular culture, rather than just putting on a token pops concert or an “arts education” event. This is just music. No lectures, program notes, multimedia, or publicity stunts needed. Nobody cares whether or not we wear tuxes. We understand each other’s music, and we just communicate with the music.
Strangers out of the blue are telling me they are excited about the go-go symphony! A woman who had read my City Paper ad for more musicians called to ask me when we will perform. I told her we’re not ready yet. She’s not a musician – just a go-go fan who happened to have read my ad. She’s asking if she could just watch a rehearsal, because she likes the concept of “go-go symphony.” She is excited that we have her music in our symphony orchestra.
I love seeing these reactions, as it affirms that I might be getting warmer. “That sounds dope,” one young woman once said to me when I told her about the go-go symphony. Imagine that — “dope” classical music. I only hope I can match their expectations.