The Boston Pops with Guster. Beyoncé in MTV's Carmen "hip-hopera." Now the Oregon Symphony with the Pointer Sisters? Love it, hate it, or just put to sleep by it, classical "crossover" programming is here to stay—and often in increasingly bizarre mixes and mashups. Classical music organizations and major pop artists are both hot on the trail, though it's not always clear whether they're sniffing inspiration or sniffing dollars.
Now, why are classical mashups good entertainment? At their best, they give audiences access to innovative reinterpretations of standard work or rare opportunities to hear pop artists in new or unusual musical settings. At their delectable worst, classical mashups are dangerously profit-driven, hokily nostalgia-soaked, or simply great ideas gone wonderfully wrong. Mashups this writer fantasizes about? No. 3: Björk singing Philip Glass with Third Angle New Music. No. 2: John Tesh as keyboard soloist on Bach's Brandenburg concerti with the Portland Baroque Orchestra. No. 1: David Hasselhoff as Rodolfo in La Bohème at Portland Opera (with Christina Aguilera as Mimi).
But back to reality. Knowing how tight arts organizations' purse strings have gotten, it's no surprise that this weekend the (three remaining) Pointer Sisters will "Jump for Your Love" in a showdown with the Oregon Symphony. It's not a new idea; the Symphony, as part of its Pops series, has teamed up with headliners like Roberta Flack and John Pizzarelli in the past.
Charles Calmer, the artistic administrator at the Oregon Symphony, defines the Pops series as a way to reach listeners who don't know an oboe from an aria. "It's traditionally about nostalgia for our audiences. We've done some experimenting mixing high and low culture," he says. "It's a way to potentially reach out to an audience that wouldn't normally come to us."
Still, there's skepticism when it comes to the artistic value of bringing in major-label artists to woo big crowds. "We're talking about entertainment here," says Tom Cirillo, executive director of the Portland Baroque Orchestra (which has his own kind of mashup next week when it pairs J.S. Bach standards with obscure works from the composer's nephew and son). "And let's be honest—our real competition for audiences today is Netflix." Perhaps the Oregon Symphony already understands the competitive lure of home entertainment—after all, the Pointer Sisters program opens with TV and movie music from The Simpsons, Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Whatever the musical merits of their collaboration with the Symphony, the Pointer Sisters are sure to draw throngs of admirers—a few with mountain-high '80s-era bangs, no doubt. I don't know about you, but I'm (genuinely) so excited.
The Pointer Sisters appear with the Oregon Symphony Saturday-Monday, Oct. 7-9. 7:30 pm Saturday and Monday, 3 pm Sunday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 228-1353. $29-$80. Get the scoop on Portland Baroque Orchestra's Oct. 13-15 season opener "Brandenburg and Bach x 3" at pbo.org.