While audience members at next week’s performance by the Art of Time Ensemble will get a heavy dose of the Beatles, those expecting a carbon copy of the Fab Four are in for a surprise.
“Sometimes you’ll see touring shows that replicate the album, that sound like you’re in the room with the band, which is a cool thing, but it’s not what we’re doing,” explained singer Steven Page. “What the Art of Time does is get contemporary composers to do new arrangements of the songs with their own musical signatures. It’s really a different way of hearing those Beatles songs.”
The ensemble’s touring show, based on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” hits the Wharton Center stage Oct. 6. The touring ensemble is a mix of classically trained musicians, jazz artists and singers with rock and pop backgrounds. Page, one of four singers performing with the ensemble, is best known as a former singer/songwriter for Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies, which he left in 2009.
For Page, the richly orchestrated “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which features experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and folk luminary Bob Dylan in the cast of characters on its cover, is the perfect vehicle for a group that blurs the lines between musical genres.
“We’re looking at where the classical music of the 20th century meets up with the pop music of the 20th century,” Page said. “For many people, it’s their introduction to the avant-garde. For people who are interested in contemporary chamber music, the Beatles are a stepping stone into the world of rock and pop.”
Page started performing with the Art of Time Ensemble in 2008, before he left Barenaked Ladies. He was invited by the Art of Time Ensemble’s founder, Andrew Burashko, to perform on the group’s Songbook series, where singers are invited to create a set of songs they have always wanted to sing. Burashko then takes the songs to composers, who rearrange them in contemporary styles.
“Walking into a room with classical musicians, as the rock guy, you feel like you’re the hack and they're the real musicians,” Page said. “But we’re really there to do the same thing, to fulfill the same goal. It’s a wonderful, collaborative environment.”
Page’s Songbook concert featured reimagined songs by Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead. Page and the Art of Time Ensemble released the arrangements on an album, “A Singer Must Die,” in 2009, shortly after Page’s departure from Barenaked Ladies.
After leaving the band he co-founded, Page was faced with the challenge of establishing his identity outside of the group that had been his primary musical outlet for over 20 years. His first move was to book a series of shows, mostly folk festivals, with cellist Kevin Fox.
“I wanted to get out there and do something very exposed and naked,” Page explained. “It was the best thing I could have done. It forced me to show the audience, and myself, that I was still a viable performer.”
The singer released his first solo album, “Page One,” in 2010. Earlier this year, Page released “Heal Thyself Pt. 1: Instinct,” the first installment in a two-album set.
“When I was putting it together, I thought, ‘Should I put out this double album and expect people to swallow it whole?’ That’s a lot to ask of an audience,” Page said. “I realized if I could split it into two pieces, that would make more sense, musically.”
He expects the second half to be released early 2017. The pair of albums features the same introspective writing Page was known for in Barenaked Ladies but also draws on his experiences with the Art of Time Ensemble in terms of orchestration and form.
“As a solo artist, some of the best work you do is collaborative. You have the opportunity to work with a lot of different people,” Page said. “Even as a solo artist, you’re never really alone.”
Art of Time Ensemble: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6
Tickets start at $20.50/$18 students Wharton Center
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing
(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com