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Interview: Musical Director George Ellis and iOTA Talk About Queen

There is a reason why the music of Queen has stood the test of time. It was ground breaking at the time it was composed. Fast forward many years, and their music is still as ground breaking and popular as it ever has been.

There is a reason why the music of Queen has stood the test of time. It was ground breaking at the time it was composed. Fast forward many years, and their music is still as ground breaking and popular as it ever has been.

Musical Director George Ellis, who rose to fame from his involvement with the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has been taking the music of great artists, such as Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, The Beatles and others, and combining their rock music with symphony orchestras.

“The songs themselves, to begin with, are great songs. The words are great, the vocal melody is great, the musicianship on them is great. Then there are the colours of the symphony orchestra, which George Martin, the Beatles producer and arrangers, knew all about. So, for example, when Paul McCartney brings a song like Yesterday into the studio, and it doesn’t quite work with electric bass and drums, Martin says ‘let’s add a string quartet’. For Eleanor Rigby there were no traditional rock band instruments; it was just a string quartet. From there it just grew and grew. Then other artists, like Fleetwood Mac for example, don’t necessarily use orchestra, but my challenge is to provide that orchestral colour, like George Martin might have done. The orchestra can provide colours that the band might not be able to. So, the challenge is to make it as effective as possible and add an extra dimension to an already good song. Further to that, there’s the excitement of 40 people on stage, rather than just 5, and seeing all the movement and colour of that. The symphony orchestras I work with don’t wear the traditional formal wear; they wear white, or colours that add another element to the visual aspect.”

On Saturday March 20, Bohemian Symphony – The Music of Queen Orchestrated will be performed at the Adelaide Festival Theatre. The 24-piece Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by George Ellis, creating a breathtaking celebration of Queen’s greatest hits like you’ve never heard them.

“It’s widely known that Freddie Mercury was interested in opera. In the concert we do Barcelona, the operatic duet Freddie did with Montserrat Caballé. He was interested in opera when he was writing Bohemian Rhapsody, which is essentially three different arias that they put together. The songs written mostly by the other members of Queen, like Brian May, are much more rock orientated, and the challenge is how to add orchestra to them, which I gladly do. But with Freddie Mercury’s songs especially, there is definitely a classical influence, and my job is to bring that out and make it as symphonic as possible.”

The performance will also feature vocalists Virginia Lillye, Reece Mastin and iOTA.

“I grew up watching Queen on countdown,” iOTA said when I spoke to him recently. “I remember when I was six watching Bohemian Rhapsody on Count Down, and it was certainly a striking image. That song, which is now a classic, was really a piece of work at the time. Freddie was a brilliant performer and had a certain aesthetic appeal. He was like a unique preacher that you can’t look away from. That’s what drew me to this show. I’ve never sung Queen songs live before, so there’s also a big attraction there for me to do something new, and to sing with an orchestra. Freddie’s voice was so great, and Queen have some challenging songs to sing.”

iOTA also shared with me about his career and where everything started for him.

“It was partly in my DNA, I was drawn to shiny, loud, glamorous Rock’n’Roll. Suzi Quatro was my first love when I was in primary school, and then it was Kiss. Kiss really made me want to do all of the things that they were doing. I could only hope to have a life and experiences that were something like theirs. I guess I never stopped pursuing it. I never wanted to get a day job; I just wanted to be involved in the chaos of music and performance, with no idea of how I was ever going to do that. I started playing guitar, which moved towards being in a band, which led me to move to the city, and always keep trying. Long story short, I somehow got into theatre, and was able to create my own shows and music. I somehow found that place that I was always looking for.”

Bohemian Symphony – The Music of Queen Orchestrated will be performed at the Adelaide Festival Theatre on Saturday March 20 at 7.30pm. This performance will include all of Queen’s greatest hits, including Bohemian Rhapsody, Don’t Stop Me Now, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, I Want to Break Free, Radio Ga Ga, We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions, Somebody to Love, Another One Bites the Dust and more. Tickets are selling fast, and can be purchased through BASS or via https://www.adelaidefestivalcentre.com.au/events/queen-orchestrated

Interviews by Ben Stefanoff

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