8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19
Occasionally, Ian Anderson says with a cheery laugh, he likes to give up-and-coming musicians a break. There was the night in 1968, for example, that he and his band, Jethro Tull, invited a talented young singer to join them on stage for a few numbers at a popular London club. That lad’s name was Robert Plant. And as every rock-music fan knows, Plant would soon collect his own bandmates and form Led Zeppelin. Anderson doesn’t expect to experience magic like that again anytime soon.
But 38 years later, he’s sure trying — and in two different ways. First, on the current leg of Anderson’s concert tour — which features the singer/flutist and an orchestra playing the music of Jethro Tull — one young musician in each city will be invited to sit in with the group during the pre-concert soundcheck. (Jennifer Wittig, a flute player from Butler University, has been invited to perform at the soundcheck prior to Anderson’s concert Thursday night at the Murat Theatre.) “Really what I’m looking for is just the opportunity that there’s some talented youngster — whether that youngster is 10 years old or 20 years old — who comes along and plays a soundcheck and maybe somebody takes notice,” Anderson says. “It might be a little experience to play with me and the orchestra. It might be something they’ll remember. It might be useful for them to see what it’s like playing in the context of a professional ensemble of people.”
While those youngsters get a night’s worth of memories, Anderson will be spreading his youth movement further. In addition to traveling with a five-piece band, his group features a 12-piece orchestra comprised of young musicians handpicked mostly from the New England Conservatory. Before playing in Boston this summer, Anderson e-mailed all interested musicians PDFs of two or three pieces of music. Then, the morning of his concert in the Massachusetts capital, he brought them in to audition individually and as a group.
The best audition didn’t necessarily guarantee a job, though. “There were a couple of girls who weren’t that great in the audition,” Anderson says, “but I felt they were better from listening to the demos they had sent me a few weeks earlier. They just cracked up under the pressure of the audition. I’ve never had to do an audition, but if I had, I’m sure I would be terrible as well.”
So before making his final selections, he allowed them to record another performance and send it to him via e-mail.
“I’m quite confident once they’re relaxed and playing with other people that they’ll be confident in their performance and more than up to the task,” he says.
Anderson is no Ian-come-lately to orchestral music. He traces his interest back again to 1968, when he played with a small chamber orchestra on “A Christmas Song,” the B-side of Jethro Tull’s first single, “Love Story.” Tull went on to record with string instruments throughout the 1970s, including several tracks on its classic album “Aqualung,” as well as a bevy of other songs: “Living in the Past,” “Bungle in the Jungle,” “Songs from the Wood,” “Heavy Horses” and numerous tunes on the album “Minstrel in the Gallery.”
He’d more or less given up on string sections until four years ago when a German orchestra asked that he join them for a few performances. Rather than take a paycheck, Anderson traded his services for orchestral sheet-music charts, some of which he’s using on this tour.
During his early experiences with orchestral music, “People just wanted to smoke a joint and try to forget about Vietnam. But this time,” he says with a wry chuckle, “it’s completely different. Now they want to come out and drink a glass of chilled Chardonnay and try to forget about Iraq.”