Music News

DeVotchKa and Colorado Symphony Team Up for Holiday Concert

Now in their sixth collaboration, DeVotchKa and the Colorado Symphony will premier “A Very DeVotchKa Holiday” Thursday, December 16, at the Boettcher Concert Hall.
Now in their sixth collaboration, DeVotchKa and the Colorado Symphony will premier “A Very DeVotchKa Holiday” Thursday, December 16, at the Boettcher Concert Hall. Brandon Marshall
It’s no secret that the members of DeVotchKa have been fans of ornate instrumentation for years. The creative partnership between the Denver-based, Romanian-inspired indie-rock quartet and the Colorado Symphony began back in 2012, when the two teamed up to debut an amalgam of rock and classical music at Boettcher Concert Hall.

“We’ve always been in love with strings and brass, and we've had relationships with some of the symphony players for years,” says Nick Urata, DeVotchKa’s lead singer, guitarist and songwriter. “So having the largest group and the most talented players all in one place for a special concert is always dear to us. And the feeling of performing with so many people on stage is almost indescribable. It's a lot like surfing a big, giant wave of energy.”

Now in their sixth collaboration, DeVotchKa and the eighty-piece orchestra will augment the listening experience with a plush, layered sound as they share the stage to premiere "A Very DeVotchKa Holiday" on Thursday, December 16, at Boettcher Hall.

The holiday concert comprises a two-hour set that includes new works, Christmas classics and DeVotchKa fan favorites. It marks the first live show the two groups have performed together since their sold-out performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2016.

“We realize that the holiday songbook has been dragged through the mud for decades, so we tried to keep it to the ones that were the most soulful and meaningful to us, and avoided the cornier ones,” says Urata.

“We’ve always been drawn to the sadder Christmas songs that have a bit of longing," he continues. "We’re doing a beautiful number, ‘Pas de Deux,’ from Tchaikovsky's iconic score for The Nutcracker, as well as other memorable ones like 'The Little Drummer Boy,’ because of its spirituality.” Another song that will appear on the evening's set list is the wistful “Blue Christmas,” written by Bill Hayes and Jay Johnson in 1948 and made popular by Elvis Presley on his 1957 Elvis' Christmas Album.
click to enlarge The holiday concert features a two-hour set with some new works, Christmas classics and DeVotchKa fan favorites. - BRANDON MARSHALL
The holiday concert features a two-hour set with some new works, Christmas classics and DeVotchKa fan favorites.
Brandon Marshall

"I love to croon in my own way, and I’ve always been drawn to Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and especially Elvis, who set the gold standard for me," Urata says. "I think Elvis set the stage for what we’re all doing now. There are a lot of people who remember the circus sideshow toward the end of his career, but he was a true artist. He was the one who picked out his songs. He changed the game for everybody.

“I just love his sentimentality in ‘Blue Christmas,’ so we did an interesting twist on the song where we’re taking inspiration from Elvis’s version, which is a more of a swing, rock-and-roll song, and from Mathis, who also had a hit with it a little later, and we’re melding the two styles with a little bit of DeVotchKa thrown into it,” he adds.

Urata, who plays the guitar, theremin, trumpet and piano, along with his talented bandmates — Jeanie Schroder (acoustic bass, sousaphone, vocals), Shawn King (drums, percussion, trumpet) and Tom Hagerman (violin, viola, accordion, piano) — crafts relational songs that are mostly about heartache. This lyrical thread is found throughout DeVotchKa’s oeuvre, from its first record, SuperMelodrama, released in 2000, up to the 2018 album This Night Falls Forever and the band's current work.

"A lot of our songs deal with love and loss. Those are the songs that always moved me. When you go through a breakup, you listen to songs with new ears, because they cut that much deeper. Or the high when you're in love makes you hear music like you've never heard it before," explains Urata. "That's what first woke me up to pop and rock music — when my interest in girls started rearing its head. All of a sudden, I started paying attention to the lyrics, chorus and melody in songs. It's that heightened spark that keeps me coming back for more all these years."

Born in Westchester County, New York, Urata was raised around music. The grandson of Italian immigrants, he grew up watching his grandparents play various instruments. “That’s how I picked up the accordion, the tuba and mandolin, and got into polkas and waltzes," he says.

In 1997, Urata moved to Colorado for his collegiate studies at Western State College, but also to explore Denver's eclectic music scene. “I fell in love with Denver," he recalls. "There were great bands happening here, it was cheap, and it had this really cool, poetic vibe. It was an open door, where you could kind of try anything.”

He soon formed DeVotchKa — derived from the Russian word devochka, meaning "girl" — and the band started self-releasing albums and touring relentlessly, fostering important musical connections with bands like Calexico and Gogol Bordello. The group landed international tours with Gogol, and recordings with Calexico helped spread the band’s sound in the States and overseas. With the release of 2007's A Mad and Faithful Telling, DeVotchKa continued to grow in popularity, which got the band on the lineup at coveted festivals such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, Bumbershoot and Lollapalooza.
click to enlarge Thursday's concert will mark the first live show DeVotchKa and the Colorado Symphony have performed together since their sold-out performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2016. - BRANDON MARSHALL
Thursday's concert will mark the first live show DeVotchKa and the Colorado Symphony have performed together since their sold-out performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in 2016.
Brandon Marshall

Urata and his band have also had success composing film scores over the past two decades. DeVotchKa was a major contributor to the soundtrack of the Academy Award-winning film Little Miss Sunshine, resulting in a 2006 Grammy nomination. Since then, Urata has scored more than thirty films with his band and on his own, including Crazy Stupid Love, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Ruby Sparks, Focus and the animated comedy film Paddington, for which he composed the majority of the music.

“You’re always growing as a writer, so creating scores certainly paves the way for more artistic growth,” admits Urata. “It opens up your mind to places you would have never gone before.”

During the pandemic, Urata, who lives in Denver with his wife and daughter, wrote a new film score that he says helped him stay creative during a somber year. “With the spread of COVID-19, things came to a screeching halt. We stopped working on a new album, our shows got canceled and the tours got pulled," he says. "So being able to do the film score for A Loud House Christmas, a holiday television movie for Nickelodeon, which was a very beloved children’s show that I watched myself, helped make things a bit more fun.”

A Very DeVotchKa Holiday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 16, at Boettcher Concert Hall in the Denver Performing Arts Complex; tickets start at $15. For more information, visit coloradosymphony.org.
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