“The truest test of a really great song is you put it in a different genre and it sounds wonderful,” claimed Dublin-born violinist Gregory Harrington, an internationally known crossover artist.
Classically trained in Ireland, and now based in New York, Harrington takes well-known songs from the rock, pop, jazz and world music canons and arranges them for performance in classical music settings. On Oct. 19 in Lambertville, he will perform an array of his arrangements as a solo violinist backed by the Riverside Symphonia String Quintet in an evening titled “From Mozart to Billy Joel & Leonard Cohen.”
“I’ve always loved the idea of re-imagining beautiful songs. And if you’re an instrumentalist, the closest thing to the voice is the violin, in terms of an instrument that is really able to ‘sing,’” said Harrington, who began playing the violin when, as a 4-year-old, he heard a string quartet performing at a horse show and fell in love with the sound made by the violin.
“I tugged on my mum’s arm and said ‘I want to play that’ and she, being a music-lover, went out the very next day and bought me this tiny little violin and that’s how it all started.” Over the years, he developed a love, not only for the violin’s sound, but for being onstage and telling a story through music to an audience.
“Something quite powerful can happen when you take a song that’s so deep in the mindset of the general populace and you treat it a little differently,” Harrington explained. “But whether it’s Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze,’ Dave Brubeck’s ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk,’ or Andrea Bocelli and ‘Time to Say Good-bye,’ if you just sit up there and play it classically, the audience will get bored.
“You have to take what makes each song unique and transfer that. So with Brubeck, it’s all those jazz solos, done in that jazz style. With Hendrix, it’s getting that rawness, that untamed passion. With Bocelli, it’s can you get that popular singing style that’s different from Pavarotti but still beautiful in a much more mainstream way.”
There will be no printed program distributed at Harrington’s concert because he prefers to introduce each song himself, offering personal stories or information that he hopes will develop intimate connections for the audience to both the music and his performance of it.
“Rather than reading a program, I want the audience to be more involved in the experience of just listening. I want to lead them on this journey through musical genres. It’s much more fun that way,” he said.
The concert’s set list ranges from the flamenco-style Spanish guitar piece “Asturias” to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Trent Reznor’s industrial rock song “Hurt,” later famously recorded by Johnny Cash.
“Because it would be remiss of me not to do something Irish, we’re also doing ‘With or Without You’ by U2,” said Harrington, “and a little bit of James Bond, Adele’s ‘Skyfall,’ and ‘Moonraker.’ And then I found this incredible classical piano piece written by Billy Joel called ‘Air Dublinesque,’ which is sort of like his take on ‘Danny Boy’ with those signature blues Billy Joel chords.
“So being a Dublin boy myself I decided to take that and write it for string quintet. It’s really all about internalizing what a song’s message is, figuring out what it’s like to be in that artist’s sound, and then making that resonate for an audience in your own way.”