Introducing Elvis Schoenberg
Introducing Elvis Schoenberg
Theirs is but one mission: To boldly go where no orchestra has gone before. Conducted by the deranged baton of Elvis Schoenberg (the musical miscegenation of the king of rock, Elvis Presley, and the King of early 20th-century dodecaphonic music, Arnold Schoenberg), the Orchestre Surreal is the brainchild of composer, orchestrator, and conductor, Ross Wright AKA Elvis Schoenberg, who has clearly paved the way for a New Avant-Garde.
A wild and seductive orchestral ride that pushes against the boundaries of genre, and dares to suggest a world stripped of those borders, the Orchestre Surreal presents radically different artistic expressions that, in Elvis Schoenberg's world, have every obligation to collide. The result is a celebratory deconstructing of known and unknown songs with the wit and whimsy of Spike Jones and the musical complexities of Frank Zappa, and a showcasing of the wackiest wacky-savant orchestra of thirty musicians in recent history.
Launched in 1997, the Orchestre Surreal came out of composer Ross Wright's mission to create a project that would strip away the barriers of cultural, generational, and artistic divide, and promote the message of open-mindedness through art. A student of the music of composers such as Arnold Schoenberg and the New Music school (his Bachelors Degree is from Cal State Northridge, and his Masters is from Cal State L.A.), as well as a devotee of Frank Zappa, the peculiar mixture of Wright's musical influences helped to further shape his vision.
Wright first discovered his inner Elvis Schoenberg while walking through Tower Records, where he heard the far-out "bachelor pad" noodlings of the late Mexican bandleader and pianist Juan Garcia Esquivel.
"It was the weirdest version of Harlem Nocturne," he recalls, "and I thought, 'this is cool!' As a composer, I always liked writing huge pieces. For my college recital I wrote a symphony for wind ensemble. Sixty-five pieces. When most people were complaining about getting quintets together."
With inspiration clearly in place, Wright proceeded to compose and arrange toward a repertoire for five years before assembling an orchestra, for an instrumentation unique to orchestras and rock bands alike: A traditional chamber string ensemble, augmented with brass and woodwinds, further augmented with the standard popular music rhythm section, which boasts multi-instrument players in those chairs, and, of course, singers.
O the singers! With him since the beginning has been The Fabulous Miss Thing (Angela Carole Brown), whose character has been described as a mad inbreeding of Yma Sumac, Norma Desmond, and RuPaul. Following shortly on those stilettos came Dangerous Dan (Daniel O'Callaghan), the singing Viking with the destructive striking, the opera singer with the lethal stinger, the karate Pavarotti, 697 1/2 lbs. of gamma ray infused mayhem... and part-time priest. And over the years, the orchestra has showcased many a stunning voice. There's Headless Jason (Jason Paige), who has brought a warped Rat Pack cool to Elvis' strange Cirque. There's The Daunting Diva-Lynn (April Fissell Chokshi), an operatic wonder who gives the notion of "the blue-haired generation" a whole new va-va-voom meaning. And the most recent additions have been the thundering presence of tenors Ashley Faatoalia, Antoine Diel, and Christopher Fuelling. A stage loaded up with these divas and divos, and the tiaras and ascots are bound to fly.
The ensemble debuted live in 1997 at Hollywood's hipster club du jour Cafe Largo, literally spilling off the stage into the front rows. L.A. hasn't been the same since. First there was the Northridge quake, then . . .
The result of this circus madness and devotion to a world of magic is Elvis Schoenberg's Orchestre Surreal, whose intrinsic humor is in the strange-bedfellows environment he and his merry band of players have brazenly created.
Even rock stars have been buzzing!
"I had some idea of what to expect, and a pretty good idea that some sort of treat was in store, and there would be some challenging charts that only the best musicians could get through. I got more than that. I was immediately engulfed not only by The Fabulous Miss Thing but by the huge sound these guys and gals put out.
"What better way to introduce the complexities and simplicities of music to a younger generation than using humor, intellect, and recognition!? And what better way to re-introduce the old farts to stuff they thought they knew. Having toured and jammed with Jimi, who was seeking Bartok during his 'Purple Haze', he'd have loved the Orchestre Surreal's version of All Along the Watchtower. He'd definitely have had the hots for Miss Thing.
"Their arrangements bring a significant, different meaning into the originals, while their mirror image brings their originals into great significant arrangements, leaving the discerning listener thinking that it should have always been the way. If they don't win a Grammy, Miss Thing can '...walk all over me.'."
––– Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer)
The late, great Mr. Emerson, who had become a sort of honorary member of the Orchestre Surreal, ended up guesting on numerous occasions, showcasing a piece composed specifically for him and Elvis' madmen (and women) entitled Honky Tonk 231 (an Elvis-signature mash-up of Take the A Train, Night Train, Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231, Honky Tonk Train Blues and The Bumble Boogie) ... and had even been known to periodically fondle Miss Thing's Theremin. Mr. Emerson's large and iconic presence will forever reverberate within the heart of Elvis Schoenberg's Orchestre Surreal, which he enthusiastically supported.
Keith Emerson and Elvis Schoenberg AKA Ross Wright
Photo by Dailey Pike
Imagine clowns stuffed in a car, and you may get some idea of how the larger-than-life Orchestre Surreal fits on most nightclub stages. Here are just a few they've graced:
The Whiskey A Go-Go (The OS is the only orchestra to EVER grace the legendary rock stage)
The Knitting Factory
The El Rey Theatre
The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, for the 2005 PBS special L.A. County Holiday Extravaganza at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Three fully scripted shows: Symphony of the Absurd, Dismembering the Classics, and Concerto for the Committed at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre
The Earth Day Festival
The Democratic National Rally
The Burning Man Decompression Festival
The infamous Pasadena Doo-Dah Parade
As well as a few badges of Merry Madness they've received:
The Los Angeles Music Award for "Best Rock Opera" and "Best Orchestral Arranging" for Symphony of the Absurd
L.A. Weekly's "Pick of the Week"
Music Connection's Top 100 Unsigned Acts List
... And oh, so many more Earth landings, sightings, abductions, and probes.
Hooray for Elvis Schoenberg for such a strange and wonderful world he has created. Their brand new rendition of White Rabbit couldn't be more fitting, as he has definitely commandeered us all (orchestra members and audiences alike) down a magical rabbit hole for adventures untold.