Elementz, Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra put hip-hop spin on Beethoven

Posted at 9:00 AM, Aug 27, 2016

Ludwig van Beethoven probably never dreamed that the second movement from his Symphony No. 9 would be reimagined as an allegorical rap song about making wise decisions in life.

However, Over-the-Rhine youth arts center Elementz and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra did, and they will bring that dream to life in a collaborative performance titled Venti Viennese on Aug. 30 at The Sanctuary in Newport.

The collaboration is the brainchild of Elementz creative director Abdullah Powell and Eckart Preu, CCO music director candidate and conductor for this particular performance. Preu wants to "rip the dusty wig off classical music," said CCO general manager LeAnne Anklan.

Venti Viennese is the penultimate performance of the CCO’s Summermusik Festival. Vienna’s rich artistic heritage was bred in large part in communal coffeehouses, where artists and musicians collaborated and debuted new work to eager crowds.

The CCO hopes to re-create that atmosphere with Venti Viennese, performing the Beethoven remix with Elementz as well as an original composition by Elementz, along with Schubert and other selections. Carabello Coffee will serve artisan coffee drinks, which are included in the price of the ticket, and pastries.

Translating Beethoven into hip-hop required work, so Powell called upon some of Elementz’s young members to give it their best efforts. Alexander Stallings, who has been performing with Elementz since March, frequently samples older soul and classical music and uses derivatives to create original compositions, according to Powell.

"He uses a device called Machine, and it’s a beat machine you can pair with the computer and program music through it," said Powell. "So he created a drum loop with the Beethoven piece sample on top of that. From there, I had a couple of our songwriters write music to it."

Mars The Chinobi, Alexander Stallings and Tafari "The View" McDade.

Tafari McDade, also known by his stage name, The View, was the first recruit on Powell’s list.

"Usually when I make beats, I like going for an original feel ... it inspired me when I heard the Beethoven sample," McDade said.

He said the classical music made him think of the game of chess, "so I started ... (to) put in similarities with how my life’s going right now and what I’m trying to overcome. There’s a lot of things in my life I have to put in check before I can do right with my music."

McDade is passionate about his hopes for the audience's reactions to his song.

"I would like them to relate to what I’m saying," he said. "There’s a lot of stages that we go through in life. We go through a lot of struggles, and overcoming struggles is about putting them in check and stopping from continuing to struggle. When you put things in check, there’s an order."

Powell and Elementz felt that McDade’s work was powerful, but the song still wasn’t complete. So Powell sought out Mars The Chinobi, another Elementz member, to contribute his own take on the Beethoven sample.

Once the words were set, Powell began arranging them into a solidified song structure, fleshing out a chorus and bridge and drawing on his own roots as a producer to make the song come to life.

The song still needed to be translated for a string sextet; that’s where arranger and musician Scot Woolley came in.

"We have a wonderful arranger, Scot Woolley, that we work with a lot, and Scot’s always a lot of fun and never afraid of any out-of-the-box or zany projects that we bring him," Anklan said. “He was really excited about this."

Powell is also excited to see how the original composition Elementz created, along with the Beethoven reworking, will translate to the reality of performance. After a site visit to The Sanctuary, Powell said he felt that it was important to include Elementz street dance performers. He called upon Kick Lee, a producer and Elementz teaching artist, to create a new, original composition. Much of Lee's work is favored by the dancers and choreographer Julius Jenkins, and Lee's music is currently featured in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s regional park performances of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

"Julius wanted a dance piece that would really be in our style, not just something that would be easy for the CCO to translate," Powell said. "So he didn’t want to make it really easy for them. He wanted to make sure it was something authentic that [the dancers] would enjoy dancing to."

Maintaining authenticity is important for both groups. Anklan said she’s OK with making people “a little uncomfortable” along the way, taking a step off the beaten path in terms of collaborations and expectations, provided the CCO delivers a solid musical offering.

The same goes for Powell, particularly in regard to this performance.

"Since we’re collaborating a lot, we’re always trying to compromise and make sure we’re meeting people where they are," Powell said. "This time, we’re going to try to push the boundaries a little bit and see if they can meet us where we’re coming from."

Venti Viennese

8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30
The Sanctuary, 417 E. Sixth St., Newport
$25 adults; $10 children and students