Bluegrass goes to the symphony

We heard recently from Keith Burgess, member of the popular Canadian bluegrass band, Jerusalem Ridge, about the recent announcements concerning their scheduled performances later this year with number of Canadian symphonies. The concerts will be billed as Fire on the Mountain: A Bluegrass Music Experience! . . . with Jerusalem Ridge, and will include 19 pieces, among them 13 with the band and the orchestra performing together.

The program debuted earlier this year with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra before a sold old house, and the reception was so positive that the ESO requested that they schedule a repeat engagement for Labor Day weekend (9/2/06).

The show starts with an overture performed by the orchestra alone, and arranged by maestro Claude Lapalme, with themes drawn from a number of traditional pieces (Fire On The Mountain, The Water Is Wide), concluding appropriately with an orchestral arrangement of Bill Monroe’s wonderful fiddle tune, Jerusalem Ridge. The band performs a number of pieces alone, including their take on Del McCoury’s version of Vincent Black Lightning and Lee Highway Blues, and with the symphony, offer a mix of tunes Jerusalem Ridge has recorded and popular bluegrass favorites.

Together, they will perform arrangements of Flatt & Scruggs’ Polka On A Banjo, the perennial Duelin’ Banjos, Man Of Constant Sorrow, Gordon Lightfoot’s Redwood Hill (famously covered by The Country Gentlemen) and several others. The concert concludes with a Gospel medley for band and orchestra.

We asked Keith how this all came to pass.

“Former Edmonton Symphony Orchestra conductor David Hoyt provided an invitation. When he was still conductor with the ESO, Hoyt caught us backstage one time and asked us if we’d like to do a show with the symphony. We ruminated on it for a couple years and got kind of serious about it in Fall 2004. More credence for the idea came after a surprising boost from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, which gave us a healthy project grant – about 70% more than what they’d applied for — for arranging and charts. In all, the program has taken two years to get onto the stage.”

The dates currently scheduled include:

Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006 – Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Edmonton, AB
Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006 – Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Calgary, AB
Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007 – Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, Red Deer, AB
Thursday, March 28, 2007 – Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg, MB

Claude Lapalme, Conductor and Music Director of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra, provided arranging and scores for Fire on the Mountain: A Bluegrass Music Experience! Maestro Lapalme will appear as Guest Conductor with the group for all of these dates. Jerusalem Ridge is made up of Keith Burgess on bass, Craig Korth on banjo, Byron Myhre on fiddle and mandolin, and Joe Teichroeb on guitar. All four are also featured as vocalists.

Keith said that he is not aware of any plans to record or film any of these concerts, but would be eager to see that occur, and would be keen in hearing from anyone with an interest in doing so for commercial release. He also mentioned that they would be willing to lease the charts should any other bands or Symphonies have an interest in offering this performance elsewhere.

Reach Keith Burgess by email, or phone (800-359-3758).

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.