Chris Deviney says fans of Pat Metheny’s jazz guitar and lovers of The Philadelphia Orchestra may have more in common than they think. He’s predicting both groups will love Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, his arrangement of three Metheny jazz tunes, premiering at Verizon Hall March 30, 31, and April 1. But for those unfamiliar with the guitarist’s work, what’s the Concerto going to sound like?
It’s not avant-garde at all, says Deviney: “I wouldn’t call it easy listening but it’s really joyous listening,” combining full orchestra with a jazz combo (the Orchestra’s principal bass, Harold Robinson, Craig Ebner on guitar, Doug Hirlinger on drums, and the two soloists, She-e Wu on Marimba and Chris himself on vibraphone).
Pat Metheny (right) and Lyle Mays
Deviney admits it’s hard to compare Metheny’s music to anyone else’s. “He has a very specific harmonic language, which I think is impressive these days. Anybody who’s carved out the ability to be recognized with a specific sound, that’s really saying something. It’s a jazz harmony language.
“The three tunes I’ve used are very different from each other. One starts as an Irish jig! The second is a very slow pastoral ballad. The third is uptempo, syncopated, punctuated.”
You might not have heard them together, but the vibraphone and marimba have been a popular combo with composers for a couple of decades. “The marimba has a tremendous range, five octaves,” says Deviney. “The vibraphone has only three octaves, but it fits right in the middle of the marimba. Funny thing, as I sat down to transcribe the solos, one instrument would be the left hand of the piano, and the other the right hand. The timbre of both instruments together is very pleasing, something I really enjoy working with. And it’s always fun to play with another person. If you can have two similar-in-nature instruments but ones that are quite different in sound, you can cover more colors.”
Another color comes straight from the source material. “Pat Metheny is known for his guitar-synthesizer sound. In the third movement, during my solo, I’m recreating the timbre of that sound on something called a MalletKat. It’s a digital instrument, keyboard style, that’s struck by mallets. It’s a new instrument that’s never appeared with The Philadelphia Orchestra before, and I’m really looking forward to introducing it.”
In arranging the piece, Deviney admits, “I had a tendency at times to want all my Orchestra colleagues to play, because they’re all fabulous. I was just ‘hey, everybody, let’s all play together!’ Turns out there’s a reason everybody doesn’t always play all the time! I realized that in a workshop back in December. I spent the Christmas break thinning out some of the parts. I wanted to exhaust every possible resource to find out if what I put on paper was what I was hearing in my head!”
To say that Chris is psyched about his Concerto and its premiere is a world-class understatement. “It’s a dream come true! I never thought I’d ever be in The Philadelphia Orchestra, so for that alone I’m so thankful. And to have this opportunity on top of that … I have to pinch myself.”
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(The Philadelphia Orchestra performs Imaginary Day, Duo Concerto for Vibraphone, Marimba, and Orchestra, based on the music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays on March 30, 31, and April 1. The program also includes Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs for Solo Clarinet and Jazz Ensemble. Bramwell Tovey conducts. For tickets and more information, please click here.)