February 17, 2012

and in your soul they poked a million holes: DeVotchKa with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra tonight

A handful of Colorado’s favorite sons (and daughter), DeVotchKa, took the stage tonight with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for an immense evening of their mariachi-gypsy laced music made even bigger.

Tonight was an electric, flawless, intuitive pairing. Coupled with the ululating vibrato of Nick Urata, which is an instrument in itself, DeVotchKa writes complex, challenging songs that have been ripe for this sort of reinvention. Songs that are already brilliant to begin with shot into the sky tonight with a thousand colors.

It’s a brilliant phenomenon lately, some of my favorite musicians recording sessions with anything from small string quartets to the sixty-person symphony orchestra I saw tonight. As I sat damp-eyed during the final gorgeous explosion of “How It Ends,” I tried to put my finger on what exactly it is that these songs gain from going through the transformation from guy-on-a-guitar to full-blown-orchestra. Best I can articulate is that I feel like it has something to do with colors, and with size.

Hearing a pop musician play with a symphony makes their songs balloon into ten thousand gradations of hue where there once were five or six. It feels like a chorus of voices (instruments) all swelling with you to agree, yes, this is a terrific song and all eleven of us violins will speak with you on that — as will a half-dozen trumpets, and those plinky wood-box percussion things. It was deeply thrilling to hear these songs get so colossally huge, and tremendously more expressive. I found myself picturing stars coming out into the sky at night during “Dearly Departed” when all the string instruments began a complex plucking pattern, the song so immense that it transcended the hall we were in. It got at that effect I am always longing and looking for in music: an overpowering sense of the vast other, the cresting of the tidal wave, the moment when it knocks you down.

We don’t, as a young-people whole, go to see the Symphony much — at least, I know I don’t. I’m sure you’ve spent many times more money in the past year on live popular music than on the symphony or other forms of “high culture,” even the raddest former band-geeks among us. I wonder if more of these incredible pairings could help remind us all why we sometimes need to sit ourselves beneath the cerulean thunder of the waves of sound that sixty people can create.

I was also watching the joy radiating around the musicians in the symphony as they performed, and from the young ones to the rad ponytailed older dudes on percussion, there was a definite energy created by this merger of forces, and what it teased out of the crowd. I would absolutely love to see more nights like tonight; I think of recordings I cherish that have captured this sort of pairing (Augie March, Josh Ritter, Joe Pug) and then fantasize about ones that would probably kill me dead if I ever were to see them live with a symphony (The National, mostly). This is a good idea with only good effects, as we stretch our musical boundaries and conceptions.

Tonight left me breathless. Musicians, let’s do this again.


  • I agree that the extra instruments, especially a whole orchestra, make the sound bigger and fuller in a mindblowing way. I remember sitting at Symphony Hall in Boston at my first orchestra-songwriter collaboration – Josh Ritter with the Boston Pops – and being overwhelmed by the sound. It washed over me and was all around me in a way that I’d never experienced at a concert before. I think it was the most moving musical experience I’d ever had.

    I do think it’s helped me appreciate classical symphony music more. I’d like to go to the symphony more, I just wish it weren’t so expensive.

    If anyone can link me to more decent-quality recordings or videos of songwriter-orchestra collaborations I’d very much appreciate it.

    Allie — February 18, 2012 @ 3:07 am

  • LOVE this site! you’re my go-to for fun music facts, and some serious stuff too. good job!

    Robert Britton *Robertbluesman* — February 18, 2012 @ 8:35 am

  • @Allie. Assuming you still live in Boston, BSO “Rush” tickets are $9. Here is the link: http://www.bso.org/brands/bso/tickets-events/buy-tickets/policies.aspx

    This article beautifully articulates the highest aspirations of this type of collaboration. At their best, these partnerships bring together two distinct but equally dedicated audiences and exposes a connection.

    There are economic, logistical, and cultural roadblocks to overcome to realize more of these concerts. In the meantime, spreading the word about the successes and their greater potential is the best way to encourage more.

    Robert Simonds — February 18, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  • Hey, great review Heather! Are there are recordings of this show circulating yet? Would love to hear it…thanks!

    Adam — February 18, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  • adam, it was recorded officially through the band – not sure what the timeline / plan is for making it available. but yes, when it is available, it is ONE YOU WANT TO HEAR, for sure!

    browneheather — February 19, 2012 @ 12:43 pm

  • Great article, and definitely agree about seeing The National perform with a symphony, I would fly across the pond in an instant just for that!

    Sincerely hope there will be a official release. Poor quality youtube videos just don’t do any justice to how amazing I imagine this actually was.

    Chris — February 19, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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