Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Dream Come True, part 1

You are cordially invited to attend an evening with
Adrian Belew and the 52-piece Metropole Orchestra
performing the world debut of the orchestral version of


This enchanting event happens on February 27, 2011
at The Paradiso in Amsterdam, Holland and will be
recorded and filmed live for those who cannot attend.

Mr. Belew wishes to express his deepest gratitude
to the VPRO Broadcasting Company, Gert-Jan Blom,
arranger Tom Trapp, conducter Jules Buckley,
and the world renown Metropole Orchestra
for making a life-long dream come true.

A Dream Come True, part 2

ever since the ripe-old age of 10,
at which point I began pestering my parents
to allow me to join the junior high school band,
somewhere in the murky back corridors of my mind
was the dream that someday I might be part of an orchestra.

several years before The Beatles and the so-called
British Invasion completely altered the course of my life
my hero figure was the band director of the
The Ludlow Junior High School Band in Ludlow, Kentucky.
my intent was to grow up to be him, the band director,
someone who understood each instrument, could teach others
how to play the myriad of instruments in an orchestra
and how to read the vast rich heritage of written music
left to all of us by the great and small composers of history.
someone who could lead the entire band in concert.
that was my vague thought of what manhood might bring.

all of that changed when two things happened:
1) my parents moved to a different town where I was no longer
able to hang out with the intimately bonded bandmates I loved,
in particular my best friend and french horn player Kenny Nevels,
and no longer to have that camaraderie as my essential self-image
and 2) The Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show, an event which
seems to have ruined, er, changed the lives of many musical youth.
I joined my first teen band The Denems which became the new
focus of my world and off we went "plummeting to stardom".

still, the orchestral dream never really went away.

many years later I was still eking out a living in the Holiday Inn
circuit where my nights were spent drumming in the lounge
entertaining the business travelers, and my days were
spent honing my songwriting skills, seeing movies,
reading books, and listening to records.

a day I remember well was the day I took a ride
alone in my van through a lovely wooded park.
the park was the Johnny Appleseed National Park
in Leominster, Massachusetts.
we were playing at the Leominster Holiday Inn
five hours a night, six days a week, for one entire month.
I often took long rides in the daytime; Leominster is a beautiful area
and has many parks and forests.

so, I was riding along admiring the scenery when I began
to daydream a piece of music being played by an orchestra.
the daydream lasted for several engrossing minutes.
I could clearly hear the piece of music as though it were a
recording, the orchestra sounded fierce and dynamic.
the strange thing was I pictured myself at the front
of the orchestra playing electric guitar!

an orchestra with an electric guitarist as guest is perhaps
commonplace these days with Metallica, Jeff Beck, et al
but at that time it was unheard of, at least to my knowledge.
it made my daydream was so powerful I've never forgotten
the affect it had on me, more than 30 years later.
(I only wish I could remember the piece of music).

fast forward to now and you can imagine my surprise
and excitement when out of the blue one day I received a call
from a dutch man named Gert-Jan Blom (pronounced
something like Kurt Yawn) who said he was in charge of
the programs presented each year by a European orchestra.
he went on to say he had read a sentence in one of my
interviews in which I said my latest record e
was written with an orchestra in mind and that his orchestra,
the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam Holland would
actually like to do the piece as part of their 2011 season!
Gert-Jan said in Holland this type of event is often
paid for partly by the dutch government and partly
by an interested broadcasting company.

you could have knocked me over with a bulldozer.

A Dream Come True, part 3

and so it was after months of continued phone calls
and a rash of e-mails and arrangements being made
that I found myself on a flight to Amsterdam where
I would spend a week finalizing details for the upcoming
debut, meeting with key people involved, seeing the incredible
rehearsal space and recording studio the orchestra utilizes
and the venue where the concert will be held,
and most importantly working on the arranging
and writing of the all-important score.

the first person to greet me was Gert-Jan.
over the week I spent a lot of time talking with Gert-Jan
and learned he is himself a bassist and record producer,
has a huge understanding of various music forms, and
is a krimson enthusiast who reads mine and robert's blogs.
in fact, he seemed to know everything about my career.

after landing at 8:30 in the morning, jet-lagged and all,
I was excited to get to work with the next person I met:
the man who would orchestrate the parts for every player
in the orchestra and who would write a proper score.

Tom Trapp, a young transplanted new yorker has lived
and worked in Amsterdam now for four years.
he and I spent the most time together.
Tom is a quiet, even-natured guy. talented. hard-working.
I liked him immediately and we became fast friends.
Tom's knowledge of each instrument and what they
can sound like together is exactly what I had dreamed
of knowing when I was a kid in the school band.
many orchestral instruments have a slew of ways
they can be played and different sounds they make accordingly.
Tom taught me many things as the week passed.
we worked 6, 7 hours a day at Tom's apartment studio,
only taking a break from the work on saturday.

after a full days work on monday and tuesday we had
found our method of working together and had the score
written for all 3 sections of a, the first movement of the piece.
Tom writes out everything in pencil very exactingly,
sharpening his pencil about every 45 seconds, and takes
many notes, but the actual physical writing occurs after I'm gone.
it will take Tom weeks to complete the score which also
has to be put into a computer software program
which spits out perfect copies for the each player.

on wednesday morning bright and early Gert-Jan, Tom,
and I drove 45 minutes outside the city to the nerve center
of Holland's broadcasting world, a place called Hilversum.
called "media city", Hilversum houses all the radio
and television broadcasting reaching 17 million dutch people.
it's a gorgeous area surrounded by meadows, lakes, forestry,
a large bird sanctuary, and some of the most beautiful homes
and gardens in all of the Netherlands.

our first stop was VPRO Broadcasting, the company who is
sponsoring the concert and as we'll see, much more.
the VPRO building itself is an architectural marvel,
people come from all over the world to study it.
amazingly it is one large space, a fact that's difficult
to imagine once you're inside.

our morning was spent with the VPRO team responsible
for our event: Gerard Walhof, Pieter van Hoogdalem,
and Aad van Nieuwkerk.
immediately they surprised me with an ambitious proposal.
more than just the world debut concert, their agenda includes
a month-long series of 2-hour radio programs, supported by some
tv and print media, a separate one-man Painting With Guitar
concert to be performed a week after the debut, and a making-of
behind the scenes video of the rehearsals, recording, etc.

the result they want to achieve is to make the month
of March Adrian Belew Month! a career retrospective!
of course this blew my mind, I've never had this sort
concerted attention paid to my music.
we even came up with a catch phrase to call the series:
Painting Holland Belew.

there are many details to work out but Gert-Jan, Tom,
and I left the meeting elated.

A Dream Come True, part 4

our next stop was the giant facility which houses Amsterdam's
four orchestras including various large spaces for rehearsing
and a very nice state of the art recording studio.
we stayed long enough to hear the symphonic orchestra
rehearsing an operatic piece and snap some pictures of me
in the hall the Metropole Orchestra uses, a place I will be
very familiar with by the end of next February.

a nice lunch and back to Tom's studio to continue scoring.

it is mentally exhausting work to think about every note,
every passage of a 43-minute piece of music, deciding
who plays what and then writing it into score form.
I don't know how Tom does it but I found it fascinating.
at the end of most days, a short break back at the hotel was
usually followed by dinner with Tom.
lots of conversation, stories, laughs, maybe a walk
around the canals lined with houses and cafes,
and certainly a stop for a well-earned beer or three.

the first night we found a cozy little bar with cool music
and two delightful bartenders, Celine and Paul
who spoke perfect english (most dutch people do)
and indulged my stories about my "musical odyssey".
the bar is called Biblos; I highly recommend it.
Biblos became our nightly hang.

on wednesday Aad from VPRO came to Tom's studio
to film us working together as part of the "making-of video".
Aad seemed pleased with the results. he was very upbeat.
in fact, everyone I met in Amsterdam was friendly and nice.

by day 4 we were in full gear, turning out a movement a day.
I was happy with the work, pleased with my surroundings,
the weather was beautiful as I trounced all over the place,
and I looked forward to our talkative evenings.
but we only had 3 days left.

friday: work work work, and the question became whether or not
we'd actually finish in time or have to somehow complete
the remaining parts via transatlantic phone lines. yikes!
Gert-Jan took Tom and me to a delicious Indonesian dinner.
Tom and I attended a friend's bachelor party held at a Karaoke bar.
no naked women, just some very frightening Karaoke.
then off to another pleasant evening at Biblos.

saturday was my day to play tourist.
Tom had other things he needed to attend to
and Gert-Jan graciously agreed to be my tour guide.
one of my best memories of the week was an hour-long
ride around the canals in one of the tour boats.
Amsterdam is beautiful at this time of the year.
we spent the afternoon sitting at outdoor cafes chatting about
all things musical, with Gert-Jan asking a thousand and one
questions about particular moments of my musical life.
I really enjoyed it and we got to be good friends.

then it was time to visit the venue where the concert
will be held, a very famous venue called The Paradiso.
it's actually an old church converted to a performance hall.
the acoustics are great. there are two balconies.
krimson played The Paradiso in the 80's.

after a nice Indian dinner we called it an early evening.
back at the hotel I suddenly realized how very tired I was.

sunday was another strong work day.
Gert-Jan stopped in to say goodbye
then suddenly it dawned on us: we had finished e,
we were done!
I had a 5:30 a.m. leave time to catch my flight home
but Tom and I still managed a fine Italian meal
and one final visit to Biblos. goodbye Celine and Paul!
I was sad to leave, but happy to be going home.
all in all it had been a perfect week.

and finally...

two historic things, 1) I've now written the world's longest blog
about a single subject and 2) I may be completing one
of my last 3 dreams I have yet to achieve.
(I'm not telling what the other two are, afraid of jinxing them).
having had such a long and fortunate career, filled with memories,
I have often said it feels like I've lived two lives in just this one.

it may be that I'm making way too much of this
and the event will come and go without much notice.
or it may be the beginning of a whole new chapter.
my worst fear is that I'll screw up my own concert debut!
it IS very scary for a self-taught musician to mingle
with well trained orchestral players and to be conducted,
not knowing how to decipher little dots on paper,
but as someone said, I DID write the damn thing!
whatever happens, it is something I will never forget.

last night I ate in a chinese restaurant
and was mildly amused to read my fortune:

"a great honor will be bestowed upon you with the coming year".

it already has.

the pictures to prove it...

the top photo: hard at work with Tom in his studio.

second from top: the artful lobby of the marvelous
VPRO broadcasting facility.

third from the top: the handsome VPRO team.
left to right: Gerard Walhof, Gert-Jan Blom, AB, Tom Trapp,
Pieter van Hoogdalem, and Aad van Nieuwkerk.
not sure about the guy in the photo on the wall.

fourth from the top: the rehearsal facility for
the 52 members of the Metropole Orchestra.

bottom photo: an afternoon boating on the canal.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

postcard from holland...

Hello from Amsterdam!
one my very favorite cities in the world.

the beautiful canals, the flurry of boats,
and sea-bird sounds of a major port,
the ancient tree-lined cobblestone streets
stacked with gorgeous old houses and shops,
while on every corner another outdoor cafe
is filled with people in coffee-flavored conversations.
the parks, the trams, street musicians, artists,
the vibrant bright colored nightlife and the ever-flowing
schools of young people riding ecological bikes
(sheesh, this sounds like a bad travelogue)
but all of this combines to give this place
a constant halo of youth and excitement.
I adore Amsterdam!

I've been here for a whole week working everyday
on a project so special for me it can only be described as

A Dream Come True.

I fly home early tomorrow morning.
as soon as I return I'll tell you all about it.