Niagara Symphony belts out Bowie

John Law

By John Law, Niagara Falls Review

The Niagara Symphony Orchestra and London's Jeans 'n Classics present a salute to David Bowie at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this weekend. FILE PHOTO

The Niagara Symphony Orchestra and London's Jeans 'n Classics present a salute to David Bowie at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre this weekend. FILE PHOTO

If it’s classic rock, it can also be classical music.

Cape Breton-born conductor Martin MacDonald admits he never listened to much David Bowie over the years (“I’ve listened to classical music and Celtic music my whole life”), but was amazed once he heard how the rock legend sounded in symphonic form.

Turns out, the gap between Space Oddity and Mozart isn’t that huge.

“They’re really amazing, intricate, intriguing, unique songs,” says MacDonald, who joins the Jeans ’n Classics band to conduct the Niagara Symphony Orchestra’s POPs! 3- Bowie show this weekend. “He was such a trailblazer and so different from everybody else.

“It’s amazing how well these songs lend themselves to an orchestral treatment.”

The show offers most of Bowie’s major hits from the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Changes, Let’s Dance and Rebel Rebel (with an encore of Under Pressure, his duet with Queen).

It was created by London, Ontario-based Jeans ’n Classics, whose stable of 51 shows includes symphony interpretations of Prince, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles. It features a full rock band, two back-up singers and lead vocalist Jean Meilleur performing alongside the symphony.

“It’s an interesting thing in the classical music world to do these types of programs, because it’s so different than playing Brahms and Haydn and Mozart and Beethoven,” says MacDonald. “These shows really speak to the community. It’s responding to what they want.”

It also breaks the stereotype of what a symphony is supposed to be, he adds. Great music from any era and genre can apply.

“We have a responsibility as orchestras and as conductors and as musicians to celebrate all music,” says MacDonald. “It’s important for us to provide a variety to our audiences so that we cater to everybody’s wishes.

“Recognize all genres, all composers, all singer/songwriters…we have to recognize the music of our past, the music of our future and the music of our now.”

MacDonald, a winner of the Heinz Unger Award for Orchestral Conducting from the Ontario Arts Council, has guest conducted with orchestras across Canada. This weekend marks his debut with the Niagara Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m friends with Brad (Thachuk), their music director, and we’ve been talking back and forth over the past couple years,” he says. “He wanted to get me, they needed a guest conductor for this particular program, so he called me up.”

While it’s his NSO debut, he guesses it’s about his 12th show with Jeans ’n Classics.

“What’s great about Jeans ’n Classics is they’re not tribute shows,” he says. “They don’t try to sound like David Bowie, sound like The Beatles, anything like that. They just try to celebrate the music.”


  • WHO: Niagara Symphony Orchestra, with Jeans ’n Classics and conductor Martin MacDonald
  • WHAT: POPS! 3 - Bowie
  • WHERE: FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre; 250 St. Paul Street; St. Catharines
  • WHEN: Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m. & Feb. 19, 2:30 p.m.
  • TICKETS: $32 www.niagarasymphony.com