ISO players opened their summer at Conner Prairie with Lee Johnson's Dead Symphony No. 6
. Johnson chose 10 songs out of Jerry Garcia's vast repertoire for an emotion-based redirection of America's iconic roots music of the late 1960s through late 1980s. Opening and closing with an "insider's joke," Johnson utilizes the improvisational essence of the Dead's music for this new work in 12 movements, at times suggesting, at times taking outright the core of Garcia's motifs, melody and harmony along with text and subtext of the lyrics. Johnson seems most enamored with the ballads, particularly "Stella Blue," which rippled into the twilight and took flight. Equally fine were his lyrical "China Doll" and jazzy "To Lay Me Down." While "Mountains of the Moon," "Bird Song" and "If I Had the World to Give" are close glyphs of the originals, Johnson emulated the mind-bending, transformational attitude of the Dead for "Here Comes the Sunshine," where he plunged us into the darker underside, and for "St. Stephen," which was unexpectedly leisurely instead of galloping. For symphonic emulation, his condensation of "Blues for Allah" was my favorite. It seemed clear that the Deadheads filling the audience were already familiar with the recording by the Russian National Orchestra and the world premiere of Dead Symphony No. 6
by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra last August. The evening opened with George Gershwin's "Cuban Overture," and Three Dance Episodes from "On the Town" and "Overture to Candide" by Leonard Bernstein.