Colorado Springs-based rocker Mark Junglen is still amazed that a Russian symphony orchestra will be performing his initial foray into classical music. And he's not the only one. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he says. "I just wish somebody would believe it's actually happening."
What's happening revolves around "Stalingrad--A Rock Concerto," a fourteen-minute classical composition Junglen penned five years ago for, he explains, "a four-piece rock band and a symphony orchestra."
Because his previous experience with the classics consisted entirely of listening to them, Junglen, who neither reads nor writes music, doubted that anyone beyond his friends and family would ever hear his fledgling effort. But he was wrong. The piece will receive its world premiere on May 6 in Volgograd, Russia (the former Stalingrad), with Junglen and the members of the Colorado Springs alternative-music trio the AUTONO filling the rock-band slot and the 84-piece Volgograd Philharmonic Orchestra serving as the symphony. The same parties will play "Stalingrad" again as part of a May 9 festival celebrating the victorious end of World War II in Europe fifty years ago. Junglen isn't sure how many people will attend this bash, but he says estimates run into the hundreds of thousands. Which makes it a pretty prestigious gig for a guy who makes his living driving a cab.
Even more exciting in Junglen's view, the May 9 extravaganza is set to take place on the banks of the Volga River, the site of the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad that inspired the concerto. "Just to be on the spot where so many people died slugging it out--it's kind of unfathomable," he says. "I mean, I'll be playing in a place where history was made--and I'm a punk-rock musician."
Of course, Junglen also is somewhat of an entrepreneur: He, Robert Chase (now a Chicago disc jockey) and the AUTONO's Chuck Snow formed their own music company, Big Ball Records, in 1988. Since then, Big Ball has released albums by a variety of artists, including the AUTONO and ATRIBE--the latter the name under which Junglen issues his own punky efforts. He'd never considered attempting a classical work until he attended a concert by the Colorado Springs Symphony.
"They were doing a piece by Shostakovich," he recalls, "and I imagined how cool it would be to have Jimi Hendrix feedback in the middle of such brutal sound."
The thought returned to Junglen a few days later while he was reading a book about the Battle of Stalingrad. A World War II buff, he had long been fascinated by the crucial bloodbath, which resulted in 1.5 million German casualties (the total includes those killed, missing and captured) and the deaths of 1 million Soviets. "Even when it was happening, everyone knew that it was going to be the decisive battle," he says. "If the Russians hadn't won the battle, the Germans probably would have won the war."
Inspired, Junglen came up with his concerto, a four-movement effort that drew equal inspiration from his punk roots and composers such as Igor Stravinsky. Snow describes the result as "a pretty aggressive piece, with a good mix of the classical and the rock. Sort of Pink Floydian."
Junglen and the AUTONO soon recorded the rock portion of the piece, but getting the symphonic portion on tape proved to be much more difficult. Without access to an actual orchestra, Junglen had to simulate one with the aid of a Macintosh computer. The expense entailed by this method forced him to put the project on the shelf for over two years, but by 1994 it was complete. He sent the finished product to several orchestras across the globe and, to his profound shock, the Volgograd ensemble--founded in 1988 and led by internationally recognized conductor Eduard Serov--agreed to put it on its May 1995 program. Also on the playlist is Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."
With the premiere a go, Junglen and the AUTONO--Snow, Ivor Young and Kirk Moore--suddenly needed to pay for a trip to Russia as well as for the rental of instruments and other equipment once they arrive. The Volgograd Symphony offered little help beyond giving Junglen the rights to market recordings of the performances any way he chooses. And the American record labels Junglen contacted were considerably less supportive.
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"They kept asking the same questions--`How can an unsigned rock band get a Russian symphony to play with?'" he says. "It was just unbelievable to them. And the ones who thought that maybe I was telling the truth weren't any better. They'd be like, `We'd give you some money if you were Procol Harum or Sting. But nobody's ever heard of you.'"
Representatives of classical-music imprints were slightly more receptive; a few actually agreed to listen to recordings of the completed concert. But since no company offered money up front, Junglen admits that he and his cohorts will be traveling to Russia "on the Visa Gold plan. Which means we're all going hugely in debt."
In an attempt to offset some of the expenses, the AUTONO has been soliciting contributions from listeners on the band's regular mailing list. "We've gotten $400 so far," Snow calculates, "which is more than I expected." In addition, KRCC-FM, a Colorado Springs public-radio station, is allowing the musicians to appear on the air Friday, April 21, to plug their trip. And the AUTONO's Saturday, April 22, appearance at the Deluxe, a Colorado Springs nightclub, has been designated as a fundraiser for the trek.
These efforts will no doubt fall far short of covering costs, but Junglen isn't complaining. "I'm looking forward to this so much that I don't really care about the money aspect of it," he says. He pauses before adding, "Well, I guess I care a little bit.