[ Poster artwork by Ben Riddlebarger, text design by Chris Dye. ]
The Mitchells will be performing an adaptation of Franz Schubert’s 1824 vocal-and-piano masterpiece “Die schöne Müllerin” (“The Lovely Maid of the Mill”).
The Mitchells’ adaptation is an original composition, inspired by the lyrics and music of Schubert’s”Die schöne Müllerin” (DSM), which retells the enduring and tragic story of a young wanderer’s obsession with–and unrequited love for–the beautiful daughter of a miller somewhere in the German countryside.
“We wanted to stay faithful to the original story, because it is so captivating. Lyrically, we borrowed heavily from the original text–even using the original German in some places–to make sure the power of the narrative still comes through.”
“Musically, we composed songs that support and drive the story line. On the surface, they sound pretty much like Mitchells songs. But they have been carefully arranged to work as ‘movements’ in a larger, cohesive musical piece.”
Like the lyrics, the new music draws inspiration from the original Schubert music. “We borrowed some general musical ideas and themes, and even a few melody lines (from DSM), but we’ve basically created an entirely new piece of music. What we came out with is this really interesting mixture of classical and modern pop-song structure. Something entirely new, but still familiar and accessible.”
“We’re still trying to get our heads around what to even call it. There are a lot of examples out there of rock music mixing with orchestral music. But as far as we can tell, this could be the first time that someone has truly adapted a known classical work, drawing inspiration from it and converting it into an entirely new piece of music to be performed by a ‘guitar-bass-drums’ rock band.”
So where does an idea like this even come from?
Just over two years ago, Joseph Mitchell (The Mitchells, vocals and guitar) and Ted Nelson (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, cellist) had been talking music over beers.
In addition to his CSO gig, Ted is also one of the artistic program directors for concert:nova, a Cincinnati-based chamber orchestra whose mission is to “reinvent the classical music experience.” The musical niche they’ve carved out quite successfully in recent years is “…the intersection of world-class chamber music and ground-breaking live experimentation.”
“We knew that (concert:nova) eventually wanted do a collaboration with an indie rock band. We were on the lookout for the right group, someone with a solid appreciation for orchestral music and who also just felt like a good musical match.”
“After a few conversations of (me and Joseph) ‘nerding out’ on Sonic Youth, Paul Simon, and Steve Reich, I felt pretty confident that we had a match for this project. The Mitchells’ music struck me as approachable, understated, and subtly complex, with a keen ear for dynamics.”
Initially, the project got off to a slow start. “What happened is what you would expect when you get two wildly creative people together with big exciting ideas. Absolutely nothing. (laughs)”
After kicking a few concepts around for a while, Ted finally had the breakthrough. “(Franz) Schubert is best known for his deceptively simple songs, setting compelling folk poetry and stories against rich and beautiful piano and vocal arrangements. Two of his best-known and most enduring works — Wintereisse and Die Schone Mullerin — seemed like the perfect source of inspiration for both of our groups to draw from. We now had a clear starting place.”
The Mitchells immediately connected with the beautifully dark story of “Die Schone Mullierin.”
“(The Mitchells) fell in love with the beauty of the music and the tragedy of the story right away. We got immediately energized about taking on the challenge of adapting the music and story, of creating something unique and original from them.”
“We met with the concert:nova team at the CCM (University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music) Starbucks in late February, and finalized which piece each group would take on. We left that meeting energized, and literally started working on it that night.”
While The Mitchells began their work on a DSM adaptation, Julie Spangler (CCM staff, CSO/Pops pianist, concert:nova pianist and arranger) got straight to work on composing five new pieces based on the Wintereisse songs and and arranging them to be performed by concert:nova.
With all of the excitement and momentum, The Mitchells were unknowingly only days away from what would eventually take the project to an entirely new level.
“Ric Hordinski asked us into the studio to record a demo track. We picked what would become the fifth piece in our Schubert adaptation. Somewhere during the process of recording the track, Ric signed on to perform (DSM) with us at the September show with concert:nova. We’re still a little amazed by the whole turn of events.”
“We had become friends with Ric last year, when we held our vinyl release show at The Monastery. And, back in early February, we played a show with Ric and Daniel Martin Moore. At The Woodward. We kept in touch. and about a month later we were in the studio with (Ric). We were pretty beside ourselves, to be honest.”
Once the rehearsals began, The Mitchells, Ric, and concert:nova have been meeting and rehearsing regularly, refining compositions and working out the final arrangements. In mid-July, they played a “work in progress” performance for concert:nova’s season ticket holders — each group performing three of their five songs from their respective adaptation.
“The response was overwhelming. I mean, it might have been the most powerful response we’ve ever gotten at a live show. One person said they were moved to tears! You can’t really describe what that feels like…its just unbelievable.”
“We can’t wait to perform with Ric and concert:nova in September, and to connect with an even wider audience. And to introduce more people to the (DSM) story. Hopefully it will get a few more people listening to and appreciating the original Schubert pieces. Musically, our lives will never be the same because of them.”
More info on Die schöne Müllerin:
More info on the September 15th performance: