Chamberfest: Art of Time Ensemble takes a trip to Abbey Road

The Art of Time Ensemble interprets The Beatles Abbey Road.

Andrew Burashko’s family left the Soviet Union in 1972 and settled in the Toronto area.

He had a cousin living nearby and on his first night in this country that cousin played him two Beatles records — Abbey Road and Help!. It was love at first listen.

“I had never heard rock and roll or pop music, it blew my mind. I just became hooked immediately. I remember asking my parents to buy me the red and blue greatest hits albums,” he said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

That introduction started a lifelong love affair with the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Burashko also went on to a career performing classical music and some 20 years ago he found the Art of Time Ensemble as a way to introduce a wider audience to the repertoire.

“In my heart of hearts, I believe that classical music, if it is under the right circumstances, can be received by anyone. After all it’s incredible music.”

Burashko’s Art of Time is unafraid of melding aspects of theatrical presentation into performances of classical music. Nor is he afraid of tackling projects that meld pop music into a classical presentation.

Those familiar with his performances will remember his take on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band performed in Ottawa a few years ago. But that wasn’t the first Beatles record he has tackled.

That was Abbey Road.

“It was the first one we did 10 years ago, on the 40th anniversary” of its release. This year is its 50th anniversary and Burashko has remounted the performance. It will close the Chamberfest in Ottawa on Aug. 8.

“With the pop music projects that we do, it’s always about trying to figure out how far we can push things, but never at the expense of the authenticity of the original album,” he said.

“I would (for example) never hire a classical singer to sing The Beatles, for example. No matter how far out we get with the arrangements and the accompaniment, the song has to sound like The Beatles intended it.”

So there will be four pop singers including Craig Northey, Andy Maize, Jason Plumb and Ottawa’s own Jeremy Fisher.

“The melodies aren’t tampered with and all the vocal harmonies are original to The Beatles because I revere them so much and everything they did sounds perfect to me.”

Given the reverence he has for the work, Burashko said he was reticent to tackle adapting a record like Abbey Road to an Art of Time show.

“It took a lot of convincing by other people and by myself to tamper with this music.” But when he focused on the record he realized Abbey Road was in some ways a most ambitious record in terms of the way the music was arranged.

“That whole second side suite — even if they were unfinished tunes, they turned it into something really spectacular. All those things gave me the confidence to forge ahead.

“There was enough meat in the original to play with.” He says he felt that Abbey Road lent itself to a more symphonic take.

“It’s crazy how universally admired their music was; not only now but when they were young. Everyone recognized their genius.

“On YouTube there is an audio interview with Louis Armstrong and he’s asked what he was listening to at the time and he said the No. 1 record in his collection was A Hard Day’s Night.”

The first take of Art of Time’s Abbey Road featured seven very different singers including two women. They shared the songs. But it changed over time starting with the Sgt. Pepper project.

“We approached that very differently. We did it with four singers and included the harmonies and it worked beautifully, so when I came back to Abbey Road I decided to do it the same way as Pepper.” His pop music tributes have also featured Lou Reed and Steve Earle.

This version of Abbey Road a la Art of Time will feature the work of 11 different arrangers.

“It’s my little perversion. I am interested in seeing something refracted through as many different lenses as possible. The more contrast there is the more it somehow amplifies the individuality of a certain thing.

“It was a challenge to get the right arranger for the right song. That’s where experience comes into play. I know where they come from. What was crucial was that all of the arrangers are Beatles fans.”

It ensured the music got the respect it needed, he said.

For a Beatles fan like Burashko, asking him to pick one song that epitomizes something universal about the music is a mug’s game.

“One song? That’s tough. Off Abbey Road my favourites are Come Together, Oh Darling, Something, I want You, Here Comes the Sun, Because, Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight … I love everything on the album.”

Burashko is quick to point out that Art of Time is “way broader than these pop projects. It’s evolved in many different directions. When I started Art of Time it was simply about turning people onto classical music.

“The way I went about it from the beginning was to go about turning people onto classical by creating concerts which included not only classical but other styles that were related, all to create a context and a bridge to the classical.”

By time he started Art of Time Burashko had worked with the dancer/choreographer Peggy Baker for almost  decade. He credits that collaboration with giving him a perspective on the theatre as opposed to the concert hall.

“I wanted concerts to have a theatrical vibe that would envelop the audience and be closer to what they know.”

This would be the opposite of a bare stage with white light.

For example the Art of Time did two different shows recently at the Rockport Music festival outside Boston. The first was a Glenn Gould Tribute which featured two meaty classical works, the Beethoven cello sonata and the Shostakovich piano quintet. Both of which had been introduced by Gould on film. The audience saw the film which was licensed from the CBC.

The other show was a take on the waltz called — fittingly — Take This Waltz. It started with an arrangement of Johann Strauss’s Emperor Waltz. The show ended with Ravel’s Valse for Two Pianos. In between there were pieces by Korngold, Schnittke, Shostakovich, Tom Waits, Liszt, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel.

When Art of Time started, Burashko was on his own with this idea. Over the years people have been broadening their thinking on classical performance.

“Classical has been in trouble and people are realizing more and more that the future lies in building connections between classical and all these other things, incorporating all these other elements.

“I have seen more and more of it over the years but I still feel like I am alone in that nobody is really doing what I am doing. As long as it comes from the heart, I don’t think it would be possible for two people to be approaching it the same way.”

Chamberfest presents Art of Time Ensemble
Where: Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre
When: Aug. 8 at 7 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.