Pop Goes Classical: Why the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Uncharted Series” Just Works

Steve Hackman, Creative Director of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Uncharted Series”

Pessimists will argue that classical music is dead because it is inaccessible, too expensive, or worst of all, boring. Those same people would say that pop music has no value because it lacks complexity, is overproduced and – wouldn’t you guess it – also boring.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we didn’t have to choose between Beethoven or Beyoncé, Brahms or Radiohead, Stravinsky or Kendrick Lamar? Well, thanks to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Uncharted Series, you don’t have to choose between classical, pop, rap, or rock. You can have it all!

I’ve attended three of these “Uncharted” concerts, the first of which was “Brahms X Radiohead,” a reimagining of Radiohead’s seminal concept album, OK Computer, mashed up with ideas and motives from Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor.

At times one hears the themes and lyrics of Radiohead suspended over Brahms’ symphony; at times the orchestra plays the music of Radiohead but filtered through the counterpoint and harmonies of Brahms. Every combination of synthesis is explored in Hackman’s recomposition, as the music moves from one to the other so seamlessly that many times the audience is left wondering which is which, and how the combination was even possible. – stevehackman.com, Brahms X. Radiohead

The combination of Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor and Ok Computer might seem gimmicky, but the two works have more in common than you might think. The TL;DR version of what I remember from my music history courses (which I got a B in so there is an 80-89 percent chance this is accurate), is that it took Brahms over two decades to complete what would become Symphony No. 1 in C minor. This was partially due to him scrapping ideas that would become parts of his other works, but close friends attributed it to his anxiety of living up to Beethoven’s legacy.

Fast forward a measly 121-ish years, and Radiohead releases its 3rd studio album, Ok Computer. The themes of anxiety, isolation, paranoia of technology, and consumerism ruining our lives are riddled all over the album. The feelings of anxiety and fear portrayed throughout Ok Computer are probably what Brahms was feeling while working on what people allegedly called “Beethoven’s 10th.”

This is what makes the Uncharted series so brilliant. Music does not exist in a vacuum. There are stories, emotions, dreams, and fears baked into every piece of music we listen to, and these are what Steve Hackman and his Orchestral Fusions evoke so well. Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Radiohead’s All I Need, and Miles Davis’ Moondreams, all hit me the same way, and none of them hold the title of being better than the other, they are simply great pieces of music that make me feel something.

I could write so much more about this, but if you’re curious about experiencing for yourself, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Steve Hackman, will be performing “From Beethoven to Beyoncé” on June 5th at 7:30 PM. Until then, Steve Hackman, when is Taylor Swift’s Tortured Poets Society X Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire dropping?

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