A Musical Mission | Music | Style Weekly

People tend to be frightened of certain art, suspecting that they are not qualified to understand it—that it’s not for them. Classical music would probably be at the top of that list. The titles of classical music selections often reference notes that the nonmusical won’t understand, and most of it was presumably written by privileged Europeans in wigs a millennia ago. Beyond old, in other words.

These are easy reductions to believe, and I understand the fear driving them. As much as I love jazz, for instance, I would never dream of writing about it, as it seems composed of a language that belies my comprehension.

Steve Hackman may be a Julliard-educated, superstar composer of many hyphens—he’s also a DJ, arranger, singer, songwriter, and pianist—but he understands the intimidation of classical music, too. Among the aims of his audacious series of fusions, which include syntheses of Brahms and Radiohead, Bartók and Björk, and Beethoven and Coldplay, is to reveal the primordial power of classical music to modern audiences, with pop music as both a linking bridge and dissonant counterpoint.

“I’ve had peers and colleagues who’re incredibly passionate about music, incredibly dedicated and disciplined to their craft, and they haven’t had that exposure to classical music,” Hackman explains, noting that they hadn’t found an entry point like he was lucky to find when young through the piano. “And so my life has been a mission of advocacy to those friends and collaborators of mine, who’re obsessed with Radiohead, who go on tour with Phish, who know every lyric to a Kendrick Lamar album. When you show that kind of passion and dedication, I know that’s a classical music listener right there. If I can just find the access, I know that person will fall in love with Beethoven’s symphonies.”

Watching footage of Hackman’s fusion performances, which can be found on his website, it’s the dissonances, or at least what I perceive as dissonances, that are most moving. The vocals of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” complement yet also disrupt Brahms’ music, embodying a ghost from the future. At other times, however, the works blend so seamlessly as to suggest that a time continuum between the musicians’ respective eras has opened up in front of us.

This music is powerful enough on my laptop. Seen live, say, from the Dominion Energy Center, where Hackman will be performing “Brahms v. Radiohead” on Sept. 24, it should prove to be transcendent. Evolution and disruption hand in hand, as an ongoing exploration of Hackman’s identity as an artist.

Steve Hackman’s “Brahms v. Radiohead” is at the Dominion Energy Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, Sept. 24. Doors open at 7 pm and event begins at 8 pm. Tickets available here.

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