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Stewart Copeland

The Education of Stewart Copeland

Going from drummer of The Police to composer of operas and concertos, you learn a few things

Stewart CopelandTake a rock drummer and plunk him into the role of orchestral composer, and he will likely reach for something to bang on to set the rhythm, as a rock drummer would. But he soon learns different. “I’ve discovered that percussion’s role in orchestral music, in general—and this is a big breakthrough—is not rhythm, which really came as a surprise,” says Stewart Copeland, who rose to worldwide fame in the 1970s and ’80s as the drummer for The Police but has gone on to compose operas and other music for orchestras.

“The rhythm in an orchestra is best driven, carried and expressed by the strings,” he says, counting off another of the many things he’s learned in three decades of composing orchestral music.
His opera The Cask of Amontillado, which he wrote more than 20 years ago, is being revived in January in New York, and with that comes another lesson.
He wrote it for four players and two singers, but in dusting it off and applying his acquired wisdom to expand it for a stage full of singers, he found that his original melodies still hold up (“I stand by every note!” he says.)
“As a musician you pick up tricks, you develop your technique, you get deeper into your grasp of the medium and can do bigger things with what you learn about how to use musical forces,” he says. “But the fundamental quality of the tunes in your head, you’re born with.”
The orchestral road for Copeland began in 1985 after he wrote the film score for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish and was invited to write a ballet for the San Francisco Ballet. His score for the ballet King Lear was dismissed by a critic as “jejune noodling,” which sent Copeland to the dictionary for another lesson.
Opera was next—a commission from the Cleveland Opera—which led to four years of work and the well-received Holy Blood and Crescent Moon in 1989.

Through all of his composing, he searches for ways to bring the liveliness and interaction of rock concerts to orchestral performances.
“I come from Jimi Hendrix and Stravinsky,” he says. “It would be tempting to try and re-create Puccini or Mahler with the orchestra because that’s what we imagine the orchestra is for. But I discovered they can do all kinds of cool things that can be very exciting. They can rock! You have 60 guys on the stand!
They should be able to burn the building down!” - Greg G. Weber

Listening to Stewart Copeland Copeland's operas and orchestral music are front and center this winter

Jan. 16–19: A revival of Copeland’s opera The Cask of Amontillado. Dixon Place, 161 Chrystie St., Manhattan.

Jan. 18: A workshop performance of Copeland’s fifth opera, The Invention of Morel, which is in development. Trinity Church, 75 Broadway (at Wall Street), Manhattan.

Feb. 19 and 21: The Tyrant’s Crush, a Copeland concerto he will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, 600 Penn Ave.,

April 7 in Albany and April 8 in NYC: Copeland performs in “Off the Score” with pianist Jon Kimura Parker, violinist Yoon Kwon, bassist Marlon Martinez and electronic valve instrument player Judd Miller.
The College of Saint Rose, 432 Western Ave., Albany, strose.
edu; Schimmel Center at Pace University, 3 Spruce St., Manhattan,

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