Houston Symphony will celebrate the legacy of iconic rockstar David Bowie with its larger-than-life summer opener Music of David Bowie, a tribute production featuring the late musician’s most beloved compositions on Saturday, June 11 at Jones Hall.
Renown music conductor Brent Havens of Windborne Music leads the instrumental talents with his own scores and curation of the androgynous singer’s hits.
“It’s not just an orchestra performing Bowie’s music, but the merging of both the rock idiom with a full orchestra,” Havens explains. “It presents a brand new palate of colors that’s different from what the rock audience is used to.”
Windborne Music’s instrumental band, which will provide the electrifying, sonorous rock elements of the show, will fluidly synchronize with the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Brock Dolyniuk–who has performed in rock tributes for The Who, The Rolling Stones and U2–will lend the lead vocals for Bowie. Havens stresses that the Dolyniuk’s performance is not meant to be an imitation or impersonation of the "Under Pressure" singer.
“We are celebrating the music of David Bowie and celebrating the artist and his accomplishments,” Havens explains. “But we want the audience to have a great time and enjoy the music that they know so well.”
Havens, who also has experience working in television, is no stranger to rock-inspired symphonic shows. Over the years, he has coordinated productions with other national orchestras that feature music from legendary artists like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and Queen.
“Having conducted so many of these shows with the orchestra, it’s almost like visiting an old friend,” Havens reminisces. “It’s very comforting to step onto the podium and know what to expect from both sides.”
Despite Havens’ illustrious music background, it was still rather difficult to develop a compelling, universally pleasing setlist of compositions. Havens, who likens listening to Bowie’s extensive, diverse records to “listening to many different artists,” thoroughly researched Bowie’s musical eras and how well the songs did on musical charts and radio airwaves.
Naturally, he opted for classic crowd-pleasers like “Rebel Rebel” and “Changes,” but the conductor still listened to Bowie’s entire discography in order to get a better feel of the musician’s vibrant artistic vision. With the help of his colleagues, the production’s songs are selected, and then Havens himself transcribed and arranged the music to fit the orchestra.
Despite the fact that Havens is very conscientious of putting together recognizable and pleasing song catalogs to include in his rock tributes, he still gets asked about the tracks he doesn’t include in productions.
“Invariably, I get asked why we didn’t perform a particular song or why we skipped other songs,” Havens admits. “We only have a couple of hours on stage with the orchestra and couldn’t possibly fit [them] all in.”
Bowie aims to instill a surge of melodious nostalgia to the British rockstar’s most devoted fans, but with the show’s dynamic collaboration of sounds, imagery, and lighting, it hopes to also spotlight Houston’s own local talents.
“Every one of these musicians is world class,” Havens says. “I couldn’t ask to be in a better position than to stand on the podium in front of these artists and lead the show.”
June 11. 7:30 p.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St. $39-99. 713-224-4240. houstonsymphony.org