At the Rudolfinum in Prague, The Czech National Symphony Orchestra performed pieces composed by Frank Zappa for orchestra.
Credit for the above graphic given to the PROMS Prague International Music Festival.
Portions of the performance included rock instrumental music integrated with orchestral accompaniment – true to the original compositions. The rock performers were Ian Underwood, Joe Travers, and Scott Thunes – all of whom played on famous Zappa recordings. On guitar was Jamie Kime who has been playing with the Zappa Plays Zappa concert series and is proficient at the staccato Zappa guitar-solo technique.
It was truly awesome and impressive to hear Zappa’s compositions performed live. Most of the pieces were composed for Synclavier, and so it was a feat for any group of human musicians to perform them – one of which had never been performed live. Zappa’s compositions for Synclavier are dense and often cacophonous, but the pieces all have moments where they congeal into more mainstream themes that make full use of the massive orchestra soundscape. A lot of it is reminiscent of Stravinsky, but the distinctive Zappa themes could be described as the soundtrack to Indiana Jones on Mind Altering Substances – should such a movie ever be made.
To get a glimpse into the shenanigans of a Frank Zappa orchestral concert, you can view this 1992 German television special of a recording of the Yellow Shark.
The show I saw had no ballet, and only a smidgen of the antics – one piece ended with the lead trumpet player smoking a cigarette in his section. Not to mention the use of a pistol and a wind machine.
I’m going to digress and say that from my perspective, Zappa was on the edge of being a renaissance man. I’ll just spell out the areas of his excellence as made public: orchestral and rock music composition, satire, comedy, performance, politics, surrealist film, and family man.
Zappa became active in politics when the wives of various US political figures started a music censorship campaign, and he was nominated as Czech Ambassador to the US by Vaclav Havel. No, Zappa was not Czech, but his nomination is another story.
Prolific isn’t a strong enough word. Zappa recorded over 75 studio albums and recorded dozens of live performances, where he pushed his players toward improvisation and excellence.
Here are my top 3 favorites listed by my own description:
Funky Instrumentals – “Hot Rats”
Orchestral and Surreal – “London Symphony Orchestra”
Rock Music, Engrossing, Catching and Humorous – “Apostrophe/Overnight Sensation”
After the show ended, Frank Zappa’s youngest daughter, Diva Zappa made an appearance on the conductor stand and told us that she felt both of her parents were there with us – her mother having died in October of last year, and Frank Zappa having died in the nineties. So, that’s a good recommendation for this and further shows affiliated with the Zappa Family Trust.