Rock bands teaming up with orchestras is nothing new. Even The Wiggles have done it, and I note Eskimo Joe is doing it later this year with the TSO, my new state orchestra. However, Evanescence has done something a bit different. Synthesis isn't a one-time collaboration with one orchestra, it is a Herculean tour where the band liaises with a new orchestra in every city it goes to. The organisers, and touring conductor Susie Seiter, probably deserve some sort of medal.
It's also more personal than the usual, ‘won't this sound good’ team-up. Amy Lee has revisited many of the band's songs and synthesised them with orchestral arrangements. The name of the album is more than apt, it is a literal description of itself. Old material in new ways, and new material with the old. That Lee was up for the challenge was evident; Evanescence has included string sections and choirs since its first album, and she has composed music for film in collaboration with Dave Eggar, who I'll talk more about in a moment.
Of course, every rock concert has a support act, and in this case its the respective orchestra, so before discussing Evanescence’s set I'll mention this. It was a smaller version of the SSO, with the addition of Sally Whitwell on piano and Dave Eggar on cello, and it was great to see them all having so much fun. The set opened with a little night music of Mozart’s, followed by some Moonlight by Beethoven. The latter was performed admirably by Sally Whitwell, with the orchestra, an unusual and novel treat for this most famous of piano sonatas. The arrangement was by Georgi Cherkin, a Bulgarian concert pianist I'll have to investigate further. It was also interesting to hear a version of Verdi’s Lacrymosa, from his Requiem, without a choir. The Lacrymosa is a clear influence on Amy Lee who references it in the front of her song of the same name. Indeed, the entire opening set was music Lee has mentioned as having an influence on her work, which added another personal dimension to the concert. The set concluded with Dave Eggar’s Rockstar cello performance of Bach in Black, which was as fun to watch as to listen too.
Once Lee walked onto the stage, in a stunning green gown, it was clear she had the presence to own the entire concert hall, but she never claimed it. This was a collaboration and her very demeanour allowed for the band and orchestra to share her spotlight. But when she sings, it’s a tricky thing not to be enamoured. Evanescence’s first album helped me through some dark times, and songs like Lithium from their second album did too. Part of the reason for that is the emotional integrity behind the music; Lee doesn’t sing of pain from some abstract idea or a desire to sound emo to be popular as a musician. Nor does her music whinge like some popular balladists seem to do these days. Her music is that of her soul, the pain is real, but she isn’t complaining, merely singing through the darkness, often finding light through the music. Hearing that, with orchestra, in person, was an experience I find difficult to describe. Perhaps that is why this review has taken so long to be written. And perhaps that’s why I have little more to say. In that concert hall with hundreds of other people, Amy Lee sang my darkness, and called to my light. Sounds ridiculous written like that, but it was a personal experience I can’t describe any other way.
To finish I’ll mention one other thing. It was great to see in this huge, rock meets classical event, three strong women in the key positions on the stage. Amy Lee, of course, Susie Seiter conducting the whole affair with aplomb, and Sally Whitwell, first as soloist in the orchestra’s set then playing piano in places where Lee usually does herself in performances without orchestra.
If a chance comes by to go to Synthesis, go – I realise that’s not likely any more. Give the album a whirl though. And go to live music events, there really is a difference to hearing recorded stuff. And keep exploring.