Stewart Copeland's Orchestral Ben-Hur

Stewart Copeland's Orchestral Ben-Hur

OK, here’s the only analogy I can draw: the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming presentation of Stewart Copeland’s Orchestral Ben-Hur is like the MCU Avengers movies. Stay with me.

Every once in a while, even the most strict nutritionist wants to dive headlong into a dessert buffet – just gorge on all the sweet stuff you can handle. The Avengers movies will never be in danger of being compared to Ingmar Bergman – they’re just not in the same (justice) league. Avengers movies are so crammed with characters, plotlines, action sequences, and CGI, if there was a cinematic equivalent to type 2 diabetes, these movies would be in danger of causing it. But every once in a while, they’re such great, overstuffed fun, they’re hard to resist.

Now, take a look at what the ESO is doing May 24 and 25. I remember well sitting around with the friends I used to jam with (and I was never a drummer, mind you), listening to the intricate patterns Stewart Copeland would weave into the songs from Outlandos d’Amour and Reggatta da Blanc. The early Police albums came out in the heyday of punk, yet The Police were anything but just another punk band. They had serious musical chops, and Copeland was no ordinary drummer.

Several inflated egos later, The Police had broken up, and Copeland had moved on. He began composing a lot of music, and got into scoring for films and TV. His bio lists some of that, and you can check it out. As his mastery of writing for orchestra, and his passion for film scoring grew, Copeland created a new musical score for the 1925 silent film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

Copeland, somewhat disingenuously, describes the more famous 1959 Charlton Heston version of Ben-Hur as a “modest art film,” compared to the 1925 treatment. (YouTube video interview) The original novel was written by an American Civil War general, Lew Wallace, and a successful play had been created from it. The 1925 movie, which featured thousands of extras for the many epic battle scenes, was the most expensive silent film ever made. In an age when the average film budget was about $168,000, Ben-Hur cost $3.9 million – over 23 times as much.

Copeland’s score debuted in Virginia in 2013. Copeland himself is part of the show, performing on a large drum and percussion kit with the orchestra. YouTube video interview.

So let’s put all the parts and pieces together. We’ve got a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame musician, appearing live. We’ve got his masterful score, performed live by him and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Then, there's one of the most amazing feats in the history of cinema. The movie itself will be shown on a screen above the stage. And ESO Music Director Emeritus William Eddins – a huge Police fan, by the way – will conduct. No CGI, no smartass Tony Stark quips. Just everything epic you can come up with without a green screen.

That’s entertainment. Tickets here, or at the Winspear Box Office.

D.T. Baker