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IN CONCERT: Not Bach, but British rock – Pops concert backs Beatles songs with orchestra

April 20, 2007 9:58 AM
“He’s unlike any composer. He’s just…very British.”
Martin Herman, a professor of composition and electronic music at Cal State Long Beach, is not speaking of Elgar, Holst or Vaughan Williams. Instead, he’s singing the praises of George Martin, Beatles producer and arranger. Though the Fab Four wrote the songs, it was Martin who provided the backing and arrangements for “Eleanor Rigby,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “A Day in the Life” and many more.
On Saturday at the Arlington, the Santa Barbara Symphony will showcase the music of The Beatles in “The Classical Mystery Tour,” the third Pops concert of the season.

A Beatles tribute band, led by Jim Owen as John Lennon and Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, will perform some of the group’s biggest hits, backed by the orchestra, under the baton of Richard Kaufman. Because Owen and his bandmates insist on sounding as close to the originals as possible, they sought out someone to play the “fifth Beatle,” a composer who could transcribe Martin’s arrangements for the orchestra.
“Jim came to my office,” Cal State’s Herman says. “I hadn’t met him before. Just before he arrived I saw a man outside my window and I thought, ‘Wow, that guy looks like John Lennon.’ It turned out to be Jim.”
Owen told Herman about the project and how Apple Records wouldn’t release Martin’s original scores. After signing on, Herman spent several months with his ear stuck to speakers, working out 20 Beatles songs, reconstructing Martin’s arrangements for “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am the Walrus” and others.
Herman says his arrangements hew as close to the originals as possible. “I sometimes doubled a viola or horn, so that a musician doesn’t just sit there,” he says. “And certain instruments are beyond the budget and availability, like the accordions on ‘All You Need Is Love,’ but this is as close as you’ll get.”
Like others in the band, Owen is a veteran of the tribute band Beatlemania’s original run, though he initially started as George Harrison. None of the members have gone so far as learning to play left-handed — like some Paul impersonators — and no one has resorted to plastic surgery, but Owen and the band are sticklers for finding the original instruments, or at least recreations of them.
“Rickenbacker reissued the kind of three-quarter-scale rhythm guitar in the ’90s that John used to play,” Owen says. “You plug that in to a Vox amp and you’re most of the way there with the sound. Then you just have to know how to play.”
“The Classical Mystery Tour” is Owen’s baby, and he funded the first few shows in 1995. It took a few years for popularity to spread, but now the show has taken the group on tour across the nation, and to Canada, Europe and Korea.
Kaufman, who has conducted the show with other orchestras in other cities, describes the performance as just like the records, but “live, and a little bigger.”
The evening also includes other gems of 20th century pop culture: John Barry’s James Bond theme, George Clinton’s “The Shag-Adelic” off the “Austin Powers” soundtrack and “English Dances” by Malcolm Arnold.
But The Beatles form the bulk of the evening.
“The last time we played with the Dallas Symphony,” Kaufman says, “the orchestra ended the evening dancing on stage.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St.
Cost: $30 to $65
Information: 963-4408 or www.thesymphony.org

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