Concert Reviews

How Pretty Lights Started Collaborating With the Colorado Symphony

Although Derek Vincent Smith, also known as Pretty Lights has played Red Rocks five times before, this weekend's show was different. The unique set up, featuring not only live band but also thirteen members of the Colorado Symphony, was the first time Smith has included a full string section in a show.

Anthony Pierce, Vice President of Artistic Administration for the Colorado Symphony says he wants to see the collaboration continue past this weekend, "I would love to see Derek do something in Boettcher Concert Hall with the whole ensemble, all eighty players. I mean, I would like to see what his ideas are more than anything else. I can't wait to talk about what the next step is."

See also: On a Previous Pretty Lights Show at Red Rocks

The members of the symphony included nine violinist, three cellist and one bassist. The group sat in a raised up stage behind the full band, which includes a trombone, trumpets, organ, drums, keyboard, synth, effects, guitar and turntable. In the front was Derek, leading the show.

"At one point we thought about using a section twice that size, this being our initial collaboration, but we wanted to keep it a little controlled for the first time," Pierce says, explaining that thirteen member ensemble is a "good, organic size, with a strong balance."

The group practiced last week, starting on Wednesday at the 1STBANK Center. The Symphony players, live band, Smith, and Greg Ellis (also known as Lazer Shark -- the mastermind behind the visual show) spread out to practice the full performance. But the collaboration has been in the works for a year, since Smith's Red Rocks show in 2013. "Derek led everything, he was in charge, it was his gig. It's not like we came together and had a free form jam session, it was something was controlled. I mean, we had to mange our risk and make sure things went well, but Derek's the guy who managed the creation"

At Red Rocks, the Symphony only came out for the last of three sets Smith played: His first was solo, then with a live band and ending with the whole band and symphony. But that final set lasted over two hours. The string section brought un-precedented depth, filling out the spaces in-between harmonies and melodies.

The musicians who joined Smith for the night were already familiar with his work, which helped the collaboration process, Pierce says. "[This concert] was really the start of solidifying the relationship between us. We want to give Derek access to resources that he hasn't in the past. What he does musically is interesting and on the edge, in terms of composition. If you think about it, its a long-form composition."

"How unique is it that we have an orchestra in Denver that is willing to try this, and we also have Derek in Denver who is probably the most celebrated electronic musician in the world in many ways. It is such a fortunate combination for the community, we just need to take advantage of it," Pierce says. "I mean, the stars have aligned."

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Mary Willson started contributing to Westword as an intern in the summer of 2014, focusing on the electronic music scene in Colorado.
Contact: Mary Willson