Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Symphonica,
I'm here with you tonight to revisit some of the songs I've written over the years and some of the great songs I've had the privilege of covering. I know that many of these songs have found their way into your lives and become attached to your own memories of life since my career began almost thirty years back, and I am so thankful for that.
Hopefully tonight will let you wallow in nostalgia, accompanied by the gorgeous sound of a symphony orchestra, and a 48 year old man who, as ever, wants nothing more than to please you. I hope that tonight will become, for you all, a special memory to take away and place with all the other moments we have shared around the world over all these years.
With love and gratitude, George Michael
Symphonica TourbookSymphonica's Guitarist Ben Butler
After moving from his homeland Australia in 1992 to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, Ben Butler has enjoyed a career as a session musician, sideman, composer and writer in New York City, working with artists such as Suzanne Vega, Rod Stewart, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, George Michael and Bono and The Edge of U2. Ben has also composed music for films as well as various television shows and commercials. Currently Ben Butler is playing guitar for 'Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark' on Broadway, a rock musical with music and lyrics by U2's Bono and The Edge, and has been taking leave to tour with George Michael on 'Symphonica: The Orchestral Tour'.
Last year during the Symphonica Tour, George Michael had the audience in Barcelona sing Happy Birthday in Catalan to his guitarist Ben. We were intrigued to find out more about this guitar wizard from New York, who was introduced night after night on stage as being part of George Michael's Band. Ben has just released a new CD, and we are grateful that he took out some of his time to sit down for our questions.
Can you tell us about your musical training?
"Growing up in Canberra, Australia, I started playing guitar around age 8, learning folk chords, Dylan, Beatles etc, then had some classical lessons for a few years, I was also learning to play rock guitar, and around 15 years of age I started working in a cover band in bars and clubs. After high school I went to the Canberra School Of Music to study Jazz. Around this time I also started taking private lessons from Australian guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel, and travelling to Sydney a lot to see him and other great musicians play. I moved to Sydney in 1988 and started playing with major Australian artists, doing tours, sessions and local club gigs. I wanted to keep developing musically and be in a place with better opportunities, so in 1992 I moved to Boston USA to study at Berklee College of Music, under a scholarship. By 1994 I moved to New York and started my life as a New York musician, and I am still there today, making my living playing the guitar."
|Americans backstage @ Paris Opera|
"In one sense it’s all the same - it’s all music and it’s about being musical in any situation. On the other hand this kind of diversity comes naturally to me as I have always listened to a lot of different kinds of music and tried to hear what is great about it, even if it was not exactly what I wanted to play. I do have a strong background in rock music, an education in Jazz, and more recently an exposure to classical music, and a love of many folk styles from around the world. Playing with all these different artists is about figuring out how they hear music, how they talk about music, and how they interact personally with musicians. And of course it helps to be familiar with their work, and have a feel for what they will like and not like."
You are currently playing guitar for 'Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark' on Broadway. Can you tell us about your work on this project by Bono and Edge?
"Working with Bono and Edge was a huge thrill for me as I was and am a genuine fan of U2, and I love Edge’s guitar sounds and parts, and their songs of course. I had never done a Broadway show before either, but when I was asked if I would like to audition for it I was excited to do it. There are three guitar players in the band, and a lot of great guitar parts going around. This show was unlike any other Broadway show in the way it was put together - we had several week-long rehearsal/recording sessions just on the music (actually they were working on it for over seven years) where we got to try different ideas, and play all different arrangements from David Campbell the orchestrator, and get feedback from the creative team. The highlights were playing these songs with the Edge and Bono singing with us. Bono has such charisma it is amazing to be playing next to him. Once the show got into the theater, that is when it all the drama happened with being so behind schedule, and the accidents, and eventually the big shake up of the team, all of which was reported blow-by-blow in the media. But since the official opening it has done incredibly well and is still going strong, and will for a long time I think. Plus I am proud of the fact that some of the guitar parts I came up with are in the score and will be played wherever the show is performed."
What is your first memory of George Michael and/or his music?
"I remember Wake Me Up on the radio...it was so catchy, even if it was not what I was into at the time, but later when songs like Faith, One More Try, Freedom and Father Figure came out I was a fan of all these songs and realized what a great singer and great artist he is."
How was it like for you to be part of such a large group of musicians on the Symphonica Tour?
"This is the biggest tour I have done, in the number of people on the team and also the size of the venues, and it is a big production in every way. It is incredibly well-run by people who have done this for years, so it’s very smooth in that way. It has been great to get to know so many people who are great at what they do, and work very hard, and also know how to have fun. When we first started rehearsing in London it was so cool for me to sit in the middle of an orchestra and hear the amazing sound they make and the beautiful arrangements. This was another new experience for me. It is definitely a different vibe from touring with a small band - better in some ways because if you get sick of hanging out with the same few people all the time there are a lot of other people to get to know!"
Do you feel at home in Symphonica's classical/jazzy genre?
"Yes I do. Actually as the tour has gone on there have been more and more pop songs and up-tempo songs added, so it’s musically quite varied."
We have to mention it: The Medley! Is it as much fun for you on stage as it is for the audience?
"Yes, of course the medley is a lot of fun! We get to come down to the front of the stage and interact with the audience, feel the energy from them, and play some really fun songs. It is very nice of George Michael to introduce us all by name, and in Barcelona last year he had the audience sing Happy Birthday to me. Twelve thousand people or so, singing to me in Spanish and Catalan. Another first for me!"
We've heard you have a new CD! Can you tell us about it?
"My CD is called 'Truth in Guitars' and is available on iTunes. It is all instrumental, featuring acoustic guitar melodies and solos with drums, percussion, bass, violin and electric guitar. The songs are mostly original compositions, except for a Bach piece, two traditional Irish melodies. I guess you could say it’s kind of world music, because I draw on influences from African music, Celtic, Middle Eastern, and Americana, and even classical, but with the steel string acoustic guitar as the main voice. I have always written music, either song writing collaborations, instrumentals, underscoring for film and TV, but this is the first time I have released a solo CD. I started working on it in January 2012, but some of the tunes are much older. I was very lucky in being able to ask some really amazing musicians to play on it, as I have worked with them all in New York on gigs and sessions.
That’s the best part about living in New York to me - all the incredible musicians live and work there. I feel very fortunate to be a part of that scene and this is how I came to be on tour with George Michael also - working for legendary producer Phil Ramone. When he started producing the music for the Symphonica Tour he hired Henry Hey, David Finck, Mark McLean and me, as we had all worked with him on other projects. So now I have my own CD for people to hear a little slice of my musical life in New York, hopefully people will like it too!"
'Truth in Guitars' is available on iTunes
Website Ben Butler
Symphonica's On-The-Road Correspondent Bev
GeorgeMichael.com provided George Michael fans with an on-the-road correspondent for 'Symphonica: The Orchestral Tour', allowing fans to develop a closer bond to the tour and its personnel.
Æccess Members), tweeting, and presence on the floor. She was always available at each concert, she made time for everybody, and the rows of fans wanting to have their photo taken by Bev, a keen amateur photographer in her free time, kept growing. Her strongest quality, many would endorse, would undoubtedly be her approachability and her kindness.
So we are proud to have had the opportunity to ask this fabulous on-the-road Symphonica correspondent a little about her work and her days on the tour.
Can you tell us something about the company you work for, what is your function and do you work exclusively for GeorgeMichael.com?
"I work for a company called officialCOMMUNITY. We partner with artists and their management to take care of their online presence and communities, which includes creating websites, online stores and handling social media. As a Community Coordinator, I'm part of a team that creates content for the websites, including writing newsletters, handling customer mail, and overseeing any projects to do with the official site.
I actually don't work on GeorgeMichael.com at all on a day-to-day basis. My role on Symphonica, as the tour blogger and community liaison, was strictly for the duration of the tour."
What did you do prior to your current job?
"Before joining officialCOMMUNITY, I worked as an assistant to a CFO (Chief Financial Officer) at an advertising firm."
What is your favourite music in general?
"As I get older, I find I'm turning more and more to the music my dad would play when we were growing up. So, lots of Motown and Atlantic soul and R&B, and jazz."
What is your first memory of George Michael?
"My earliest memory of George's music goes back to 1984, when I would go over to my friend Janet's house and me and a bunch of my girlfriends would dance around her living room, singing all the songs on Fantastic."
You are from Canada, having travelled around Europe with the Symphonica Tour, what were your experiences of this continent?
"I absolutely loved travelling around Europe. I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity for even a glimpse of cities that I never dreamed I would get to visit. Canada is such a young country, that seeing so many buildings and sites that had existed centuries before this country was even conceived of has been a real treat. It's also been a great way to figure out which places I'd like to visit more fully on my own."
Can you describe what your workday on the tour looked like?
"Symphonica was a bit different than what I imagine other tours would be like, as we had a lot of space between shows. On days off, even when I was doing touristy things, I was still in work mode, as even that could find its way into the blog.
On show days, I would get up and answer e-mails, check on Facebook and Twitter, and add content to the Æccess page. We would generally have to leave for the venue by 4pm for soundcheck. Once there, I would sit in the audience while the orchestra rehearsed, taking photos and notes of the soundcheck. Then we'd break for dinner, after which I'd go out into the venue to take photos for the Facebook fan albums.
Once the show began, it was a juggling act of live tweeting the show, responding to twitter questions, writing that night's show report, and taking pictures of the performance and the audience. At the end of the night, I'd go back to the hotel to edit photos and complete the blog post, which then got submitted for approval so I could post it the next day."
You are a fabulous on-the-road correspondent, where did you learn to write? Or is it one of your talents?
"Well, thank you, but I actually find the process of writing excruciating! I'm a textbook Virgo, in that I'm my own worst critic. I think though, that because I was trying to capture things as they happened, it gave me a kind of freedom in writing that I don't normally experience. There's just not enough time to agonize over every phrase. :)"
What will you take away from this experience?
"The biggest thing I think I'll take away from this experience is a gratitude for having had it. How many people can say they got paid to tour all over Europe to write, take pictures and watch a George Michael show a few times a week?! Of course, I'll also take away the memory of all the great people I met, both musicians and fans. It truly has been a once-in-a-lifetime thing that I'll treasure forever."
Official George Michael website
Symphonica's Harpist Michal Matejčík
Michal Matejčík, born in Slovakia, once described playing Harp is like a union between music and painting for him. He can hardly be missed on the Symphonica Tour, as he accompanies George Michael on the harp on 'I Remember You'. A spokesperson for George Michael released a statement to the Austrian press quoting: "Michal Matejčík plays with confidence and great musicianship, his distinctive sound and his ability to listen and play with George makes him an integral part of the George Michael Symphonica tour."
We have been reading a lot about Michal lately in the Austrian and Slovakian press, now it was our turn to sit down with the Symphonica Harpist for a short Q&A, starting off with asking him how he started playing music.
"Music is passed from one generation to the next in our family. In their childhood my parents played piano and sang in a choir. My grandmother was a very good pianist and teacher, and all her grandchildren were led by the hand across her piano keys. In this environment, music has found its way to me. I started with playing piano, and later also guitar and harp."
Michal studied at the gymnasium, and went from there to study at the conservatory and The University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna after that. He won several scholarships and prizes for his own compositions, and has played with large orchestras around the world, such as the European Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Opera, with conductors like Fabio Luisi, Valery Gergiev, Philippe Jordan, Andrés Orozco-Estrada and Heinrich Schiff.
"During the time when I studied in Vienna, I did auditions for student orchestras and I received the position of Harpist in the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra in Japan. I spent one month with students from all over world and worked with fantastic conductors like Valery Gergiev and Fabio Luisi."
As well as playing in large orchestras and in smaller ensembles, Michal also performs solo (pop and classical) concerts and teaches piano and harp. This year he has toured with George Michael and the multinational operatic pop vocal group Il Divo, and he played Depeche Mode songs on his solo Harp Tour through Slovakia.
"I like to play classic, pop, rock, easy listening and folk, but my favourite genres are probably pop music & classical"
Michal's earliest memory of George Michael dates back to the nineties. As a child he grew up in Czechoslovakia, a country that was ruled by communism, and he had no access to music from the west till 1989.
"I grew up in Eastern Europe and in that time of communism it was impossible for us to watch or listen to artists from Western Europe. I think I saw a George Michael poster on a carousel attraction one day, there was not only fun but also gods from the west that day! It was a while after the Fall of Communism in 1989 when I first heard a song of George on MTV, it was Freedom!"
When Michal applied for the Harpist position in the Symphonica Orchestra in the summer of 2011 he was aware that George Michael recorded 'I Remember You', a song written by Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer in 1941, for his album 'Songs From The Last Century'. "I knew that George Michael recorded a song with a harp, but I didn't expect that he would play it on the Symphonica tour. After I sent my application letter, I received a mail back with the positive answer and with the music for 'I Remember You' as email attachment."
"We have played 'I Remember You' many times now on the tour and each time George Michael leads the melody with a different feel, with small tempo variations and pauses between the phrases. And I respond to all that, to all his feelings."
We can hear Michal's other notable contributions to the tour on You've Changed and Father Figure, which has been added to the setlist in 2012. In between the concerts you can find Michal taking a walk through the cities he plays in with Symphonica. Next to his music career, he works for an art foundation in Italy, so he also studies Italian when he has time on the road. He visited musicals, the ballet, London Symphony Orchestra and a concert by Lana Del Rey. Michal reveals to us that he has fallen in love with London and may be even moving there.
When asked how he feels about playing on this tour Michal answers: "Playing with all these great musicians is one of the best experiences of my music career!"
Website Michal Matejčík
Symphonica's Violist Petr Kukovič
Petr Kukovič started playing the violin at the age of four and he now plays viola.
Petr was musically aware of George Michael from an early age, and was long since fascinated by his voice, which he heard on MTV, for it's 'con spirito' (emotion & soul), zeal, and musical intelligence. While he doesn't listen to George's earlier work a great deal, he considers the 'Patience' album to be an inspiring, impressive and mature work of populair music.
"As for one of his greatest hits, I like Older and I regard it as one of the best in pop music!"
"I see the whole Symphonica Tour as a grand experience. I have the utmost respect for its music and its audience, because, when it comes to heartfelt sincere enjoyment, no one more than the people who come to the concert are there out of love for the music"
Petr Kukovič on Facebook
Symphonica's Violinist Elena Kalinovska
Violinist Elena Kalinovska tells us about her work and how meeting and playing with George Michael changed her views on music.
"My training as a professional musician went through the usual process - from music school, through music college and music academy to the Theatre Orchestra (Operatic & Ballet orchestral performances) and Symphonic Orchestra. I grew up in a refined world of ballet and classical music. Gradually the delicate atmosphere of baroque and romantic music changed into the music of Wagner, Schostakowich, Krzysztof Penderecki and Alfred Schnittke.
I have played with several orchestras and most of the time it was baroque music (I adore baroque!) or symphonies by Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, Chaikovsky, Dvorak, etc. Participating with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra gave me the opportunity to play more modern music, for example at the Prague Proms Festival, and to record music with Ennio Morricone, Lalo Schifrin and Carl Davis.
Last year I was playing all of George Michael's concerts with the CNSO on the 'Symphonica: The Orchestral Tour'. His concerts are packed full of fans, in stadiums and concert houses. Oh, what a feeling it was when the voices of 15-20 thousand people resonate in your ears, heighten your senses, envelope and invigorate you. I really enjoyed it! It was worth it! I've opened myself to George Michael, he is really a great professional! He works hard and uses his beautiful voice perfectly, full of energy and emotions! He has a perfect team and I especially want to say that Henry Hey does much valued work with the orchestra.
|The Symphonica Team|
So, I don't know where my curiosity will take me next, I just know I'm grateful to be fortunate to look forward to new concerts and new discoveries in the future! What will surprise me next time?"
Elena Kalinovska on Facebook
Founded in 1993, back2front design and manufacture backdrops, drapes, and set pieces for many live events. As well as designing the site of London's West End Live they produce the backgrounds for numerous events, many within the music industry, including Bob Dylan, George Michael, Elton John, Mark Ronson, The Reading Festival and T in the Park.
"It was such a surprise to all, as it looks pretty moderate when working with it under nornal light, but when lit, it certainly has that wow factor."
"Can't even begin to calculate how many stitches that adds up to...sewing machine proud and all puffed up!"
For more photos visit the back2front website.
Symphonica's Redburn Transfer
|At Vorst Nationaal, Brussels|
The Redburn company was established in 1870. Chris Redburn, formerly a successful musician and the fourth generation Redburn to steer the business, is the founder of the modern company, Redburn Transfer. Under his guidance, the business has added value to its core transportation skills by specialising in the music industry. It is now established as a leader in music trucking and five times winner of the Total Productions and Live Awards 'Best Trucking Company'.
|In front of the State Opera in Prague|
"Music transportation is a demanding business that requires considerable skills and experience."
|Unloading in Prague|
|Trucks at the Palais Garnier Opera|
If they are in the same town for a couple of days during the Symphonica Tour, often the drivers will have a look around the town at places of interest, and some take their bikes and cycle around.
Symphonica Trucking Personnel: Andy Barr (Lead Truck Driver), Davy Forbes, Pete Cramp, Phil Mantle, Terry Tomsett, John Lawrence, Rob Atkin, Martin Jones, Mike Jackson and Pete Simmons.
Website Redburn Transfer Ltd - Thanks to Ada for the videos
Precision work at the Wiener Stadthalle in Vienna, when trucks have to drive into the Stadthalle!