"In the music industry, whether it's a live concert or recording, music and artists are segregated into categories," he explains. "When you consider Broadway, jazz, classic rock or classical, there are tight-set boundaries that package music in compartmentalized groups. But that's not the way people like to listen. We often jump from one genre to another while driving or working -- we hit shuffle or skip a song on Pandora or switch radio stations. Yet the music industry still packages music with labels. In the end, we probably miss a lot of wonderful music. Shuffle sets out to prove that the labels people try to put on things don't do us any favors."
In the process, Shuffle just might convince people that different genres of music aren't so different after all. "I included Bjork in the show because she writes great music," O'Neil says. "People who love romantic classical music might say, 'Wow! I really like her.' My job is essentially to convince people to like more music... I'm the composer's advocate saying, 'Here, listen to this!' to audiences."
The availability of vocalist Will Chase helped O'Neil decide on his Phillip Glass selection. "Will Chase is uniquely talented," he says. "He's got this Broadway feel, but I used to know him as a percussion major in college and I feel like this piece features him in what he's good at in a way that others couldn't do." Chase, who stars as Michael Swift on NBC's hit show Smash, will join O'Neil on stage, along with Sydney Brooke Fisher, a Denverite who performed in the CSO's A Night in Vienna.
Five of the pieces on the program -- including Seal, Pat Metheny, Glass and Björk -- are unique to the Colorado Symphony. When she learned about the concept behind Shuffle, Björk allowed the CSO to perform New World and Overture to Dancer in the Dark for free. In some cases, no published music was available; O'Neil orchestrated them especially for this performance.
A rarely heard Bach piece for the organ -- the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor -- will be heard in an orchestration by twentieth century composer Ottorino Respighi (composer of the Pines of Rome); Glass's "Changing Opinion," from Songs from Liquid Days, will be the first performance by a soloist with an ensemble since the original recording.
Shuffle will be performed tonight only. While that's a lot of work for one show, O'Neil hopes that a good turnout will inspire another Shuffle production. "Some people wouldn't necessarily come to hear Bach but they will come to listen to Metheny," he notes. "We called it 'Shuffle,' but the alternative title was going to be 'Can't we just call it music?' We want to emphasize appreciating music for whatever it is, not the box that we can put it in, and take the musicians on their own terms, not prejudging by genre."