Dust off your dancing shoes, ABBA fans … BABBA will be performing all your favourite ABBA hits, accompanied by George Ellis and his 30 peice symphony orchestra. FOCUS chatted with George this month in the lead up to the event …
Hi George. You’re one of Australia’s most accomplished orchestrators – take us back to when music first became a part of your life …
When I was seven years old, my older brother was having piano lessons, so I asked my parents for lessons too. When they said I was too young, I pestered them until they relented, and so began my journey into music learning. I remember watching a music performance on TV when I was that age and wondered how a group of people were able to make music that sounded so good. I was captivated by it. I still am.
How did you become interested/involved in your chosen genre, and what is the curation process for a composition?
Often, when practising music on an instrument, my musical thought would veer away from the music I was supposed to be practising, and I would come up with my own melodies and harmonies. When I was in a rock band, I liked to write original music for the group to perform. When I was a classical instrumental student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, I would compose my own music to perform, rather than music by, say, Mozart or Tchaikovsky etc. These days, my career has focused on conducting and orchestrating, rather than composition, but when I do compose, it’s a commission from a client. They are specific as to what they would like the composition to sound like and I compose it to their satisfaction, to the best of my ability.
Working with large orchestras must give you quite a buzz. How does it feel to be standing in front of that much of a musical force?
Working with a large orchestra is a huge buzz. The bigger the orchestra, the better. I am right in the middle of the huge sound. The largeness of the orchestra, combined with the amazing quality of the professional music making before me, is out of this world. It’s an exquisite and powerful sound.
We are talking about musicians who have been playing their instruments since they were five years old or so. They’re all Conservatorium trained and have been playing their instruments for 20 or more years.
What has been the most interesting project you’ve had to convert modern music into an orchestral piece?
Over the years, I’ve orchestrated music by some wonderful modern music artists – current Australian artists such as Megan Washington and Josh Pyke and music from a few decades ago including The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen and Roy Orbison. One of the most amazing projects was a concert put on by iconic rock band The Church for their 30th anniversary at the Sydney Opera House. Orchestrating songs such as Under The Milky Way and Unguarded Moment for this concert was a huge pleasure and privilege, as I had started listening to their music since I was a teenager.
This year sees you working on huge shows such as Beatles Orchestrated National Tour, The Hits of the Crooners with Chris Lloyd, Symphony in the Park (Killer Queen Symphony) and also, ABBA Orchestrated, which we are lucky enough to have here in Port Macquarie. Tell us about the show, what can we expect?
ABBA’s music is timeless, as the success of their hit musical Mamma Mia proves. Their song Fernando was No.1 for months in 1976. Waterloo won the 1974 Eurovision song contest. We all know these and their other songs like Dancing Queen and Money, Money, Money. To hear these songs accompanied by a full symphony orchestra is something very special.
Who are playing the roles of the ABBA members?
Brilliant band BABBA is playing ABBA.Wait ‘til you see and hear them – you’ll think you’re seeing and hearing ABBA!
What are your memories of ABBA?
Pandemonium! In the mid-1970s, ABBA took Australia by storm. People were saying they were the biggest thing since Beatlemania in the 1960s. ABBA were all that people were talking about in the pop music world and beyond. And rightly so – their songs were beautifully crafted and their vocal performances were brilliant. Oh, and the fashion! I remember that well. BABBA follow suit!
Favourite ABBA song?
The Winner Takes it All – it’s a wonderful melody, but it’s the emotionally poignant lyrics about a long-term relationship breakup that get me every time.
Don’t miss ABBA Orchestrated with George Ellis and his 30 peice symphony orchestra at Westport Park.
Saturday 3rd November, 2pm – 9:30pm.