"I notice that you're missing a 'd' at the end of your name," Stewart Copeland said when he picked up the phone for our interview late last week.
So true. After bonding over the origins of our shared-but-in-my-case-Americanized last name, The Police drummer and I moved on to talking about his newest project: a University of Texas-commissioned performance collaboration with pianist Jon Kimura Parker, Met Opera violinist Yoon Kwon, bassist Marlon Martinez and Electronic Valve Instrument (EVI) player Judd Miller. Their program includes their takes on work by masters like Ravel and Stravinsky and (comparatively) newer artists like Aphex Twin and, in an encore, a song by The Police.
Copeland has spent the intervening years since The Police broke up in 1986 (with sporadic reunions in the aughts) scoring films, video games, television and ballets, plus releasing solo albums and forming one-off supergroups like Oysterhead (with Phish's Trey Anastasio and Primus' Les Claypool). Beyond his newest project, Copeland is especially proud of his recent work developing a new score for the 1925 silent film
Ben-Hur (no, not the Charlton Heston version), which he performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last year.
Copeland & co. are touring Off The Score for a limited run of dates, including a stop at Clowes next Friday.
NUVO: You've said this show, at its core, is about the tension between two different kinds of musicians: those who read and those who play. Can you dig deeper into what that tension is?
Stewart Copeland: It's conceptually tension, but in fact, the sensation is more like release. For me, I get to play with players of unbelievable caliber. I thought I was playing with the best of the best of the best, as a film composer; we're hiring the triple-scale guys. But, no. I get up with Yoon Kwon and Kimura Parker, and they have a proficiency, a musicality, a skill level way beyond my experience. To play with that caliber of musicians, for me, is very liberating. For them, who have spent a career, a vocation, adhering to the page, to be released from the page is very liberating. There is a tension caused by the sense of exploration, but that's an artistic thing. The actual feeling that we have is liberation.
NUVO: Why does this particular collection of musicians work well together?
Copeland: Well, because to run down the line, Yoon Kwon plays with The Met, and plays the great works of opera every day. But she has a lot more going on; she has all that technique, that proficiency that got her to that chair of first violins there. She has a lot more going on then Mozart. That level of proficiency, talent, and the fire – she's also very, very charismatic in her performance. Just watching her play and the things she comes up with just lights us all up. Kimura Parker, as we call him Jackie, he just has that technique. When he's blasting away on his Stravinsky or Rachmaninoff, he can sense that there's more that could be done with this. He's inspired, his mind drifts off into other places that these chords could go. ...
On bass, we have a youngster, the next big things, from the Rolodex of Stanley Clarke, the world's greatest living bass player, who happens to be a really close friend of mine. He turned me on to young Marlon Martinez, a graduate student at [Los Angeles'] Colburn School. He is very jazzy; improvising, he's all over that while he also performs with the orchestra and plays the classical charts with great alacrity and panache. He can step up. He's a very exciting player.
The fifth member of the band, Judd Miller, has been in my back pocket for decades. He is the first guy I call in my movie work, because of that bizarre instrument of his. ... I've referred to him during our film scoring years as a Swiss army knife. ...He's a brilliant improviser; he has music in his heart that wells up. And I know that whatever sound he's performing on, it comes from the heart. He's a real artistic talent. He has a beautiful music in him, and that's the most important thing.
NUVO: I read in a review that you're encoring with a song by The Police. Which one?
Copeland: Oh, yes, yes. A really obscure one. It's called "Darkness." About half of the piece is The Police song, the other half is stuff I just came up with inspired by The Police song. But The Police song is in there. That's the starting point. And then we go off the page ... but it's all scored, all the extra stuff. The places that we get to are all fully scored, but we mess with it.