Hear pop music like you’ve never heard it before when, on Friday 12 October at the Royal Albert Hall and Saturday 23 February at Town Hall Symphony Hall, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra presents Symphonic Pop, a concert dedicated to the world’s greatest hits, arranged for a full-sized symphony orchestra chorus of backing vocalists, and full rhythm section.
ABBA, Adele, Beyoncé, Elton John, George Michael, Robbie Williams – the list goes on. Hear their songs performed in a fresh, new way in this concert conducted by Nick Davies, and presented by Smooth Radio and Classic FM’s Margherita Taylor in London and BBC Radio presenter Phil Upton in Birmingham. But how is the music of a four-piece pop band or a star soloist transformed into something so rich and complex as orchestral music, without losing the emotion and energy that makes a song a smash hit?
Who better than Martin Nygård Jørgensen to answer that. He’s one of the select band of orchestrators of Symphonic Pop and a rising star in the worlds of jazz, pop and classical music, celebrated not only as an arranger but also as a composer and conductor.
Born in Denmark, music was the only thing Martin wanted to do in life. He studied musicology at the University of Copenhagen then gained a masters in jazz arranging at the Amsterdam Conservatoire. He emerged with one goal in mind: to arrange popular music for Denmark’s radio orchestras.
“I contacted their producers and made a few arrangements for them, as well as with choirs and big bands,” he recalls. “Over the past five years I have made more than 200 arrangements in a wide range of styles from classical music and film to jazz, pop and rock.”
Being so involved in music, whether transcribing, orchestrating or arranging, means that Martin listens to music in a different way from most people, and even some musicians.
“I focus on the craftsmanship and the quality of the original composition or arrangement. The most interesting pop songs are those written in multiple musical layers, with depth and with harmonic structures that go beyond basic chord progressions. The musicians who compose them seem to know a lot about music theory and have an in-depth knowledge of harmonic structures.”
As examples, he quotes Danish pop star Mads Langer and Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell.
Songs with high levels of detail and lots of energy attract him, too, including Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’. You can hear Martin’s orchestration in the RPO’s concert.
To hear Martin describe his working methods, it’s clear there’s more to arranging a pop song for orchestra than simply ‘impersonating’ guitar, drums and vocals.
“First, I need to take care of the melody,” he says. “Because the lyrics and the singer are absent, I make sure the melody is distributed among the different instruments throughout the song, in order to create diversity and development.
“Next, I make sure the rhythm section is playing as close as possible to what is heard on the original track. Then I make sure to incorporate the signature sounds such as brass riffs or string lines.
“After this comes the fun part: creating a sense of musical development that helps make the piece more interesting to the listeners, and adding extra instrumental layers, counter lines and riffs to create a more symphonic sound.
“Finally, I let the orchestra flex its muscles. Without a singer at the front, it has an obligation to shine and to play the main role.”
Symphonic Pop will feature four of Martin’s arrangements: ‘Crazy In Love’ by Beyoncé, ‘Stop’ by Spice Girls, ‘Rolling In The Deep’ by Adele and ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake.
Says Martin, “They’re all powerful and wonderful songs, and I'm really looking forward to hearing them played!”
Written by John Evans