Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Orchestra debuts symphony of Grateful Dead music

OK, this has nothing to do with Las Vegas entertainment except Deadheads are everywhere.

On Friday the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will turn into Uncle John's Band.

The orchestra give the world premiere of Lee Johnson's "Dead Symphony No. 6." It's the first orchestral composition based on the music of the Grateful Dead.

The musicians will wear traditional white dinner jackets and dresses — not tie-dye. But the music will be accompahied by a psychedelic light show, and there will be a photographic exhibit about the Dead in the lobby of Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The performance is sold out, and it has attracted national attention.

The timing is a bittersweet celebration of what would have been Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia’s 66th birthday. Garcia died Aug. 9, 1995.

Johnson, a musician but not a Deadhead, composed a 12-movement symphony inspired by the music of the Grateful Dead. The includes sections based on such Dead tunes as n "St. Stephen," "Here Comes Sunshine," "Mountains of the Moon," "Blues for Allah," "Sugar Magnolia," "To Lay Me Down," "If I Had the World to Give," "Bird Song" and "China Doll." Its Johnson's sixth symphony (hence the number in the title).

On a Web site dedicated to the symphony, Dead historian Dennis McNally says, "The essence of the Dead's music was improvisation, and the root of that is an attitude that says transformation is at the center of all art. Dead Symphony takes different fragments of the Dead's music and reweaves them into a sparkling tapestry that satisfies a whole 'nother realm of possibility."

For fans who can’t be attend the sold-out concert, the Russian National Orchestra in Moscow recorded the symphony and the CD is available through the Dead Symphony and composer's Web sites.

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