Frankly Classical

Frank Zappa’s legacy goes from classic to classical.

Conductor Marin Alsop and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra will gather some of contemporary music's biggest guns this weekend for American Mavericks, a modern-music festival that will feature composers John Adams, John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse in the flesh. But some untraditional CSO listeners may show up on Friday night for the program's sideshow: the Colorado premiere of two orchestral works by Frank Zappa.

Maestra Alsop chose to include Zappa's Dupree's Paradiseand Be Bop Tango on the bill because she liked them, notes CSO spokesman Gene Sobczak. But no one person has been a more avid supporter of Zappa's immense catalogue of recordings and compositions than his widow, Gail, who's taken it upon herself to serve as executor of those unique musical family jewels. As she points out, "Nobody else knows what to do. I lived with him a long time; I know what to do."

It's taken a while, Mrs. Zappa says, for her husband's achivements to be recognized in the classical-music community, because -- quite Frankly -- he was a self-schooled composer who didn't win awards or wear patches on his elbows. "Frank Zappa was not prepared to pay those kinds of dues," she explains. "He was unique in that he had no snobbishness about music: Anything he liked was fair game." Although that included everything from doowop to Edgar Varèse, Zappa was thought of as a rock star rather than as a serious composer during his lifetime.

But, Mrs. Zappa contends, "I was married to a composer, not a rock star. He became a rock star because that's what paid the cost for his habit of writing orchestral music. He was lucky to make a living performing music, but there was not much opportunity for him to hear his own music performed in all its splendidness." That seems to be changing. While orchestral performances of Zappa's work are not new, particularly in Europe, Mrs. Zappa says the requests to use his compositions are beginning to pour in: "Our sort of music tradition is falling away. Orchestras got younger; their members are more interested in the music they were listening to while growing up, outside of the orchestral dimension."

Frank would be pleased, Mrs. Zappa thinks. "He is pleased," she affirms. And by the way, don't think of him as the "late" Frank Zappa. "Actually, he was always on time," she notes. "It was the orchestras that were late in getting around to playing his music on stage."

 
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