Brent Havens went to Boston's Berklee School of Music, where he worked on becoming a jazz arranger. But fate had other things in mind for him. For the past decade and a half, Havens has been shaking up concert halls across the country. Teamed with Randy Jackson, a singer with tremendous pipes, he has been adapting rock music to a classical setting. The Doors, the Eagles and Pink Floyd have all been inspiration for Havens, and he has brought concerts of their music to Kleinhans Music Hall. This weekend, it's time for Led Zeppelin. Havens conducted his arrangements of "Black Dog," "Stairway to Heaven" and other Zep songs here to great acclaim in 2002, and now, by popular demand, he's back with more of the same. Or is it?
>Q: You last brought your Zeppelin show to Kleinhans Music Hall in 2002, and you began the project in 1995. How has it changed over the years?
A: It has changed substantially from the initial time that we put it on, and, in a number of ways, it's changed substantially since were in Buffalo. Now, we do the full rock lighting aspect. We have hazers and moving lights and the whole bit. The hazers are like fog machines, but in essence, it allows you to see the beams moving across the stage.
It's sort of a bridge between the classical and the rock. We've added an electric violinist. She has what's known as wood viper, an electric violin. It looks like a cross between a violin and guitar. She plays it like violin. She trades off solos with guitars, and you're not sure what's playing what. It can sound like what she wants it to sound like. Mark Wood, from the Trans- Siberian Orchestra, designed and built these violins.
>Q: How about the music we'll be hearing?
A: We've added songs and removed some songs. The big ones will still be there - you can't take out the big ones. But we've added some new songs. I like it to be a surprise.
>Q: What have you come to appreciate about Led Zeppelin?
A: I think the fact that they were so harmonically and rhythmically so far ahead of everyone else at the time. Most of the rock bands back then were doing straight 4/4 rock 'n' roll, with straight up triatic stretchers. I think Led Zeppelin was experimenting with alternate tunings on guitar. He wouldn't tune his guitar to standard six-string tuning. He would change it. If you strummed it without fingering any of the frets, it would play in C or it would play in D. Now everyone's doing that, but this was back in the early '70s.
Even the meters were different. In "The Ocean," in the first 16 bars, not one bar has the same meter. But you don't sit there and say, "This feels weird." It feels right. It feels comfortable. You groove to it.
>Q: How do orchestra musicians take to this music?
A: A lot of musicians we play with know the tunes. I'll ask, "How many of you know these tunes?" Seventy-five percent raise their hands. Those who grew up with it know the tunes. Even the ones who don't enjoy it, they're consummate professionals; they're going to do their job because they're world-class musicians. That's what they do. They might not be enthralled with Wagner, either, but they're going to play it. They're professionals.
>Q: What does this concert offer traditional Zep fans?
A: I think the fact that we're trying to reproduce what they're listening to everyday almost exactly, and then you add a 50- to 70-piece orchestra. It's so different from what they're used to. But at the same time, it's exactly what they're used to. The basis is as close to original as we can get, without having the originals on stage. It is, first and foremost, a rock concert.