Stewart Copeland will tackle chamber music at Clowes

03.23.15
Indy Star

When Stewart Copeland is onstage, he causes a commotion.

The drummer played his way into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Police, striking with power and precision on hits ranging from "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Message in a Bottle" to "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" and "King of Pain."

In the 29 years since the Police disbanded, Copeland's work has included being a member of all-star trio Oysterhead (with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and Primus bass player Les Claypool) and writing music to accompany a 1925 silent-movie version of "Ben-Hur."

With his current project, the classical-themed "Off the Score" quintet, Copeland refers to himself as "an untamed beast, with little regard for formality."

He describes "Off the Score" as an experiment in mixing musicians who rely on instinct with musicians who are devoted to sheet music.

"All five of us in this ensemble really get a buzz from that clash," Copeland said.

During a phone interview, Copeland talked about bringing "Off the Score" to Clowes Hall on March 27. And as someone who has written music for television and film for more than three decades, Copeland shared his thoughts about "Whiplash" — the biggest movie about keeping the beat since "Drumline."

Keeping 'Score'

In contrast to the chart-topping rock songs of the Police, "Off the Score" boasts a highbrow component.

The group plays chamber music, the classical format executed by a handful of instrumentalists rather than a full orchestra.

The quintet's co-leaders are Copeland and Jon Kimura Parker, a pianist who has toured Europe with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a YouTube personality who presents a video series titled "Concerto Chat."

"He has all this technique," Copeland said of Parker. "But as he's playing his Rachmaninoff, his Stravinsky and his big piano pieces, he has a creative urge. He's raised to play what's on the page, but he is aware that many of the composers wrote cadenzas and expected there to be improvisation — an art form that's largely withered in the classical world."

Beyond Copeland and Parker, the "Off the Score" ensemble includes electric violin player Yoon Kwon, bass player Marlon Martinez and electronic valve instrument playerJudd Miller. The EVI is a synthesizer that allows former trumpet player Miller to use breath control to access his library of sounds.

In concert, the group performs compositions by Copeland and Parker, plus works by late French composer Maurice Ravel, late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla and modern electronic musician Aphex Twin.

"The music is quite persnickety and complex, therefore it needs to be quite exact," Copeland said. "Not in terms of what is played but how it's played. The rhythms need to be very tight. And what I'm doing with those rhythms is different every night, but it's tight."

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