Since the release of award-winning biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” last fall, the music of Queen has found a new surge. According to Nielsen reports released last week, the British monoliths sold more music than any other artist in the first half of 2019 with 731,000 albums and 1.3 million-plus digital downloads (many coming from the movie’s soundtrack).
It’s also led to a near sell-out of Queen’s upcoming tour with “American Idol” star Adam Lambert filling in for the late Freddie Mercury (tickets for the August 9 date at United Center are some of the hardest to come by this summer).
But for rabid and newfound fans of the band, there is another experience to be had as The Music of Queen makes its debut at Ravinia on July 7. The “symphonic rock hybrid” features the distinct music catalogue performed by an orchestra accompanied by a live band and vocals (performed by Brody Dolyniuk, a Vegas showman behind classic rock tribute act Yellow Brick Road), plus club lighting that brings forth an arena-type show with added layers of instrumentation.
“The sound with our shows, more than anything, sets the experience apart,” says conductor/arranger Brent Havens. “When you have a full orchestra there’s a whole different take on these familiar songs with the instrumental palette you get.”
The chamber-sized orchestra, featuring local musicians at every stop on the tour, has a full array of woodwinds, strings, percussion and a brass section with trumpets, trombones and French horns that magnify the nuances of Queen’s music.
“‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ is one of my favorites done this way; it’s just spectacular with the orchestra,” says Havens, noting that the ensemble also performs staple songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Tie Your Mother Down” while also adding in a few rarities.
“I listened to the entire catalogue, every album, every B-side over and over to dig in and find those really cool little gems that people will be blown away by,” Haven adds, noting that the fullness of Queen’s music was one of the rationales for translating it into this medium when he first debuted the show back in 2009.
“One of the wonderful things about Queen’s music is that because it is so rich and complex I had so much to choose from, and it opened up the channels for me to write,” he says. “The harmonic structures were there. The melodies were there. That gave me the opportunity to write multiple counterpoint lines for the orchestra, versus just a 4-chord rock ‘n’ roll tune. A lot of times in the program, the orchestra is playing the licks right along with the lead guitarist and sometimes the strings are playing counterpoint to what the guitar is doing. So there’s a whole wide range and all these different colors you get a chance to hear that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Havens, a Berklee College of Music alum who has also written for feature films and television, is the guest conductor and arranger for all of Windborne Music’s rock programs. The parent company of The Music Of Queen began in 1995 with The Music Of Led Zeppelin and has since added in orchestral-rock fusion renditions of David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and Whitney Houston, over the years.
“We were way ahead of the game in 1995 when everyone was saying ‘Wait, what do you want to do?’” Havens remarks, laughing. “But now it’s become a big trend to combine symphonies with modern music. And that’s a good thing. Orchestras are looking for new things to try, new ways of bringing audiences in, and that was really the point of this when we started — to bring a whole new audience to see their local orchestras, and hopefully younger people too.”
With the attention the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie continues to draw to Queen’s music —not unlike the boon the band saw with “Wayne’s World” in the ‘90s — it has added even more interest to programs like Haven’s. “The movie was huge, and now more people are coming out and calling us about the show, and we are booking more than ever before. And that’s a really good thing, to help keep the incredible music alive.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.