What do ABBA, Beethoven, Mozart, Queen, Notorious B.I.G, Tupac Shakur and the films "Encanto" and "Star Wars: A New Hope" have in common?
They’re all being featured in upcoming performances by the Phoenix Symphony.
When most people think of a symphony concert, classical music comes to mind. To be sure, heavyweights like Brahms, Dvorak, Handel, Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and more will be heard in Symphony Hall this season.
But in case you missed it, the symphony has been broadening its scope over many years to attract wider audiences. This includes mixing in popular music, playing scores along with blockbuster movies and even providing live music alongside a Cirque-style extravaganza, which will happen on New Year’s Eve with Troupe Vertigo.
Peter Kjome, CEO of the Phoenix Symphony, says, “We want to have a real wide range of programming, so regardless of what someone’s interest is, we’ll have something exciting and enriching for them.”
Music director Tito Muñoz — who’s in his 10th and final season here — also embraces and celebrates contemporary classical music and cultural diversity and is an “integral part” of deciding what to perform, Kjome mentions.
In addition, the Phoenix Symphony, whose 64 members all live locally, aims to reach all ages and backgrounds: It performs 32 weeks a year serving 200,000 people, not all of whom see a show in a concert hall.
It plays “for people who may otherwise not be able to experience music like this,” Kjome says, whether they’re schoolchildren, unhoused people or those living at memory care centers. “We want to enrich the lives of our community and think it’s an important part of our role.”
For those who do want to attend a show at Symphony Hall, the group aims to keep its music accessible. Tickets start at only $35, with discounts for students, seniors and educators, and it partners with VetTix, a nonprofit offering tickets to veterans for a small delivery fee.
Buying a bundle makes it more affordable, too, whether you want to attend classics, pops or create your own series.
“It’s surprisingly accessible to come to concerts by the Phoenix Symphony,” Kjome says, adding, “I see young people at many of our concerts ... It’s inspiring to see a wide variety of people coming to our concerts.”
Upcoming shows that might attract a wider audience include "Disney’s Encanto in Concert Live to Film" Nov. 24 to 26; "Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez" Feb. 2 to 4, 2024; "She’s Got Soul" featuring vocalist Capathia Jenkins singing R&B hits March 29 and 30, 2024; and "The Resurrection Mixtape" fusing highlights from Mahler’s Second Symphony with the rap music of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur May 17 to 19, 2024.
Also, disco fans can enjoy "The Ultimate ABBA Tribute" Feb. 9 to 11 next year, and on March 2, "The Music of Queen" will take the spotlight at Arizona Financial Theatre, a larger venue than the 2,312-seat Phoenix Symphony Hall. Brent Havens is the conductor and arranger, and the singer representing Freddie Mercury’s vocals will be Mig Ayesa, who’s performed in London and on Broadway.
The next popular program will be "Prohibition: The Music of 'Moulin Rouge,' 'Boardwalk Empire' and More!" Nov. 10 to 12, featuring songs from the Roaring ’20s like “Mack the Knife,” “La Vie en Rose” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
For this and some other shows, the symphony is adding “Preludes” an hour prior to performances. The Prohibition Prelude will include a live jazz trio, costume photo ops and themed cocktails. Patrons are encouraged to dress in period attire, so break out those flapper dresses and gangster suits.
Haley Schofield, a loyal patron of the symphony since 2016, says many patrons dressed up for past screenings of "Star Wars," "Hocus Pocus" and "Coco," which she adds was “precious” because so many families with young kids came in costume. She added that it was “brilliant” that children were exposed to the symphony by dressing as a familiar character and going to a well-loved movie.
“The Phoenix Symphony makes it feel like they’re interacting with all of us and not just performing for us,” she says.
A trained pianist, Schofield enjoys classical music as well as the popular programs. When she and her husband, Benjamin Withey, were newly dating, they bonded over their first date to see Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 8, also known as the Pastoral Symphony, which was featured in the Disney film "Fantasia."
Since then, they’ve seen several films with accompanying live music by the symphony, including a screening of "Star Wars" that ended up being particularly memorable.
“He took that as an opportunity to propose at the Phoenix Symphony Hall on the second-floor balcony,” Schofield says.
Another “extraordinary experience” was seeing one of their favorite movies, "The Princess Bride," on Withey’s birthday at the Orpheum, which — along with Symphony Hall — is one of their most-loved buildings downtown.
“We got our favorite seats at Orpheum and had this beautiful alignment of all our favorite things,” Schofield recalls.
While the symphony plays at various venues in addition to Symphony Hall, she encourages everyone to take in a performance there because of its grandeur. Even the steps leading up to the entrance are welcoming, she notes.
Once inside, there’s a full bar and coffee bar, and patrons can take drinks into the hall. Pro tip: Before the show starts, preorder drinks for intermission to speed up the process.
Schofield urges anyone who’s never been to go to the symphony. It’s come-as-you-are or you can get dressed up, the playbills are informative, the seats are comfortable and the acoustics are beautiful, she related.
“It’s not the same as listening to it on the speakers in your house,” Schofield says. “You feel it in your body.”
The Phoenix Symphony performs at Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St. Call 602-495-1999 or visit the symphony website for info and tickets.