Ben Folds with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Last weekend was my birthday (I am now 40, woo) and as a treat my folks took us to see Ben Folds play with the Grand Rapids Symphony. It was a great show!

Ben Folds with the Grand Rapids Symphony

Ben Folds brought a selection of his Ben Folds Five songs that have been orchestrated, in addition to a movement from the piano concerto he recently composed. I haven’t listened to all of the recent BFF albums but I knew almost all the songs they played, which was nice.

They only played one movement of the piano concerto – this seemed to have been Folds’ choice, I’m guessing maybe because they only had a few hours to rehearse together? Or maybe he is concerned that his pop audience won’t make it through an entire three movements? (I think they would have – the audience was super receptive and appreciative throughout the show.) The movement they played, the third, was fun, bright, and energetic. There were a few nods to Elfman (I thought, anyway) and a general feeling of homage to the Beatles’ A Day in the Life (though slightly less cacophonous). He gave a brief introduction to what a piano concerto is, for the benefit of audience members who may not have had much in the way of classical music knowledge, and kept a great sense of humor going despite some stern/fun-refusing faces among members of the orchestra (maybe they just felt that it would have been unprofessional otherwise, but a number of the musicians seemed pretty stone-faced).

One of the highlights of the show happened when someone in the audience loudly shouted out, “Rock this bitch!” Folds started out by explaining the background and then asked the contrabassoon player to replicate a lick Folds played on the piano. The contrabassoonist gamely figured it out in just a couple of tries and then Folds added in other instruments with different, complementary licks, adding up to a pretty neat little eight-bar (I think) bit. He added in the chorus so that there were some lyrics (“Rockin’ this bitch in G-Rap with an orchestra”) and then after the symphony got it down, Folds improvised some on the piano and encouraged a few of the orchestra members to jump in with improv as well. It was really fun to watch and hear and I feel like it loosened up some of the players as I could see smiles during and after that piece.

Folds returned to the stage for an encore with the orchestra and then returned again for a few songs on his own. It was a really fun show and I’m so glad we got to go!