The Orchestra Meets The Blues

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Symphony New Brunswick is joining forces with acclaimed blues singer-songwriter Matt Andersen for a trio of fundraising shows to be held in each of New Brunswick’s biggest cities. The tour kicks off in Moncton this coming Monday evening.

Symphony New Brunswick is the only full-size professional orchestra in the province. In 2009, the symphony came under the leadership of music director and principal conductor Michael Newnham and has since seen a period of unprecedented artistic growth. In addition to his duties with Symphony New Brunswick, Newnham is also the music director of the Peterborough Symphony, as well as the Northumberland Orchestra and Choir.

Best known for an intense but inspiring style of conducting, Newnham brings a literal world of experience to the podium, having conducted orchestras and opera companies in Poland, Italy, Austria, as well as throughout his native Canada.

Symphony New Brunswick’s six core professional musicians offer a full range of chamber concerts in communities across the province. They can also boast of entertaining an estimated 12,000 students in the 2012-13 school year.

Undertaking musical collaborations such as the upcoming shows with Matt Andersen is nothing new for Symphony New Brunswick; the symphony has worked with Le Choeur Louisbourg and l’Université de Moncton in the past.

Symphony New Brunswick general manager Jennifer Grant says that she hopes the symphony’s upcoming performances with Andersen will help introduce people to the symphony while also affording Andersen’s fans a chance to hear his material in a new light.

“These shows with Matt provide us the opportunity to introduce the symphony and show an extended audience what the symphony is, what it sounds like and what it does. We are definitely hoping to make some new Symphony New Brunswick fans at these shows.”

Grant says that the members of the symphony have been studying charts of Andersen’s music for the past few weeks and look forward to having the opportunity to finally rehearse with the acclaimed musician. Comprised of both young and more established musicians, Grant says that the excitement among symphony members at the upcoming shows with Andersen is palpable.

“Some members of the symphony have been with the orchestra for the past 25 years but thanks to Sistema, there has been an influx of young talent coming into the province. Regardless of the age of the orchestra’s members though, everyone is looking forward to the opportunity to perform with Matt. Performing before a full house of appreciative music fans makes a big difference to the musicians on stage.”

Perth-Andover native Matt Andersen already knows plenty about performing before full houses. Last year alone, Andersen performed more than 200 shows in support of his 2011 release Coal Mining Blues, performing right across Canada and the United States while also extensively touring through the United Kingdom. Recorded at the studios of the late Levon Helm (The Band) in Woodstock, N.Y., Coal Mining Blues would go on to win three Maple Blues Awards in 2012 in addition to a British Blues Award nomination.

Having spent this past summer touring the United Kingdom, Andersen also had the unique opportunity to open for former Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant at a show held outside of Seattle. Yet for all of the travel that Andersen has undertaken since his 2005 debut record, home remains where Andersen’s heart is. He says that he is looking forward to his upcoming shows with Symphony New Brunswick.

“I have performed shows with Symphony Nova Scotia as well as with the Saint John String Quartet and the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra, however these three shows will actually be the first time that I will be performing with Symphony New Brunswick,” he says. “It is going to be an amazing and intense experience to get on stage with 40 other people instead of just five others.”

The process of poring over his catalogue to determine which songs would be best suited to the symphonic treatment resulted in 13 or 14 songs being selected. Stating that the orchestra is more naturally suited to perform his slower pieces rather than the more tempo-oriented material in his catalogue, Andersen says that hearing his songs be given an orchestral treatment is music to his ears.

Once his performances with Symphony New Brunswick wrap up, Andersen has little time to catch his breath. In addition to tours of Europe and the United States slated to take place over the remainder of this year and early 2014, Andersen is also planning to head into the recording studio next month to begin making the follow-up effort to Coal Mining Blues.

“With the music industry these days, things are definitely moving faster than they used to,” he says. “It is not just a matter of a handful of labels dominating the business now. As an artist, you really have to stay on top of your game.”

WHAT : Matt Andersen with Symphony New Brunswick
WHEN : Monday, Sept. 23, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Capitol Theatre, 811 Main St., Moncton
TICKETS : $45 plus service charges.

Advance tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre Box Office, by phone at (506) 856-4379 and online at capitol.nb.ca.

Article published in the September 21, 2013 edition of The Times & Transcript