YSO joins rock act for The Music of Queen

Brent Havens didn’t jump on the “Bohemian Rhapsody” bandwagon.

He created “The Music of Queen,” which forges together the music of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon with a symphony orchestra, nearly a decade before the Oscar-winning biofilm grossed more than $900 million worldwide in theaters.

“It’s always been one of our most popular shows,” said Havens, who composed the orchestral arrangements. “Then ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ came out and it just exploded. We’re slamming busy. We did three times, four times as many (performances) as we would normally do.”

A four-piece rock band, lead singer Brody Dolyniuk and conductor Martin Herman will be joined by about 28 members of the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra for a concert Saturday at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre.

“It’s not an orchestra concert,” Havens said. “It’s a rock ‘n’ roll concert with an orchestra.”

The movie introduced to a new audience what classic rock fans already knew — Queen released an amazing body of work from its 1973 debut until Mercury’s death in 1991, including such rock radio staples as “Killer Queen,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Somebody to Love,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

“It’s got everything — harmonies, great melodies, a richness in the harmonic structure,” Havens said. “It really lent itself to an orchestral treatment. Even in a single song like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ it goes from a very light beginning to operatic to straight-up rock ‘n’ roll.”

Fans can expect to hear the hits on Saturday, but Havens said he also dug deep into the catalog, expanding some hidden gems and B-sides with more lush arrangements.

One of the songs that benefits most from the orchestral treatment is “Who Wants to Live Forever,” written for the film “Highlander.”

“When you have an orchestra sitting there, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said. “One of the biggest reactions we get is for ‘Who Wants to Live Forever.’ It’s so heavily orchestrated. The orchestration is very moving, the song is very moving. If I can say this, it’s sort of breathtaking. At the end, the audience goes ‘Wow,’ and just explodes into applause. And Brody kills it. He just sings the living daylights out of it.”

Dolyniuk was recommended to Havens by a friend of a friend when he was starting the Queen show. In addition to “The Music of Queen,” Dolyniuk sings lead vocals for shows built around the music of the Rolling Stones, The Who and U2, and he can stand in as a last-minute replacement on the Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd shows.

“He just blew me away, his knowledge of the music but also how he sings it,” Havens said.

The Led Zeppelin show was Haven’s first classical-rock fusion, making its debut in 1996. Surveys they did when the production first started indicated that 85 percent of the audience for The Music of Led Zeppelin never had seen their local orchestra before that night.

Shows like this are more common now — some major orchestras now offer a rock subscription series to go along with their classical series and pops series. But it still is a way to expose those talented local performers to new listeners.

“The Music of Queen” and the other Winterborne Music shows depend upon having skilled players in each city. The orchestra members will have about a 90-minute rehearsal with the conductor earlier in the day before performing in front of an audience that night.

“These are classically trained musicians who are normally playing really complex music,” Havens said. “This may be complex for rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s not a Stravinsky or a Prokofiev.”