He’s a star everywhere from the catwalk to the Billboard charts, but violinist David Garrett is ready to conquer new terrain with his groundbreaking Rock Symphonies album, available on Decca July 20th, just in time for his newest PBS special.
This international superstar has quickly amassed a huge and devoted audience—especially of a much younger fanbase than the listeners usually associated with classical music. His fresh, vibrant take on classical music has shot new life into this genre. He has gained international stardom, with chart-topping albums and gold and platinum selling discs across Europe, in the UK and the Far East.
The super-powered David has experienced huge success with American audiences as well. Not only was he Billboard’s best-selling new classical music artist of 2009, but was the # 9 overall New Artist across all genres. His debut album for Decca, David Garrett, debuted at No. 1 on the Classical Crossover chart, and maintained its presence there for 31 solid weeks. In addition, David has been featured on Oprah, Fox & Friends, E! News, the Today Show, CBS Saturday Morning, CNN, and Good Morning America as well as NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
David’s first music special for PBS, “Live in Berlin,” was an enormous hit as well, and was broadcast during March, June, August, September, and December pledge drives. Following on the heels of his hit PBS special, David toured the U.S. extensively with sold-out dates nationwide.
Rock Symphonies brings together two of this German-born violinist’s two great loves: classical music and the rock music of his generation.
?”For many years, I’ve wanted to bring classical music to a younger audience,” confides David, who was soloing with the greatest orchestras in the world by the time he was ten years old. “And I’ve seen fantastic results–I have a wonderful young audience enjoying Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, so that’s a dream come true for me.” It’s a vision that he has worked towards all his life from his pre-adolescent performances with the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Russian National Orchestra to his concerts with legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin by age 12.
When he was thirteen years old, David signed a contract as a solo artist with one of the world’s greatest classical record labels, Deutsche Grammophon. “I probably have spent more hours in my life playing violin than sleeping,” the violinist, who began playing at age four, laughs. He still maintains an active classical career, playing concertos with traditional symphony orchestras.
But rock music has always been a real passion for David as well—and his concerto nights are interspersed with arena and club shows internationally with his own band. Rock Symphonies, recorded with the City of Prague Orchestra, is a love letter to his favorite bands, like Nirvana (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), Guns N’ Roses (“November Rain” as well as their cover of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die”), Aerosmith (“Walk This Way”), U2 (“Vertigo”), Metallica (“Master of Puppets”), and Led Zeppelin (“Kashmir”). “I’m very big fan of 80s rock, of power ballads and that kind of stuff,” David says. “And I think adding an orchestra elevates rock to a whole different level.” The project is made all the more special by the appearance of the blistering, young Australian guitarist-singer Orianthi on “Walk This Way” who has previously worked with Carlos Santana, Carrie Underwood and Michael Jackson (where she performs on the international smash film “This Is It”). This summer Orianthi is on tour opening for Adam Lambert and also appears on the “Rock Symphonies” PBS special.
For David Garrett, whose idols go from Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page to his former teachers Itzhak Perlman and Ida Haendel, there shouldn’t be any hierarchy between genres. “Choosing repertoire is very instinctive,” David observes. “For this project, it was quite easy. We had a theme—rock—and we chose things with a very strong rhythmical vibe, whether it was Beethoven or Metallica. The concept of “Rock Symphonies” has been on my mind for a very long time. I’ve always thought that there was a very strong connection between classical and rock; there’s a very strong sense of rhythm and a very strong sense of precision in both.”
Certain tracks, like “Kashmir” and “Walk This Way,” are absolute naturals for Rock Symphonies (as David notes, Aerosmith already paved the way for genre crossing with their now-classic collaboration with Run-DMC). But some choices are more surprising, like an innovative mashup of U2’s “Vertigo” with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and a revisiting of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which of course experienced life as a disco favorite in the late 1970s—here, it’s recreated as a hard-rock headbanger’s special. “Beethoven was someone with rock-star appeal,” David explains. “The real definition of a rock star is someone who’s extremely passionate about music, somebody who’s a genius, and tries not to be afraid of exploring. Beethoven was definitely not a follower.”
David winces when he’s asked if this is a covers album. “That would be the most horrible thought,” he says wryly. “First of all, I tried to view every song from a very different angle than the original, and sometimes even changed the whole character of the piece. Secondly, not using vocals gives a lot of freedom.”
Born in Aachen, Germany with an American ballerina mother and a German lawyer as a father, David and his family were nurturing his international solo career since his early childhood. By his teens, he was subject to a grueling schedule of symphonic concerts and recordings—but even by then, he longed to escape that life. Without telling his parents, he fled to New York, where his life revolved around rock, clubbing, and a seemingly deserved rebellion, abandoning the classical violin.
But even in that hedonistic milieu, he realized that he missed the instrument that had been such a crucial part of his identity. He decided to audition at the world-famous Juilliard School, where he was not only accepted as a student, but also invited to join the studio of one of classical music’s most legendary artists, Itzhak Perlman.
While he was at Juilliard, David began picking up various side jobs, including modeling gigs. His intense, chiseled looks quickly earned him a place in such magazines as Vogue and on the catwalk for Armani during Fashion Week. With such a fashion pedigree, his personal style is also a great hybrid of influences. “My fashion sense is very rock,” David observes, “though I like to wear a suit too. I like to mix it up.” That’s true for his music-making as well – as evidenced on his groundbreaking Rock Symphonies album.