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Santana joins Oakland orchestra for bigger sound

on November 19, 2010

Like avocados and chocolate, Latin-infused rock and classical music are two much-loved flavors on their own that we seldom try together. But with Carlos Santana playing alongside the Oakland East Bay Symphony at the Paramount Theater this weekend, concertgoers will have a chance to broaden their musical palettes.

Santana, the Mexican-American guitarist best known for songs like “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman,” will join Oakland’s leading classical orchestra to play in the premiere of The Enchanted Forest: Seven Higher Worlds of Music, the first full-orchestra composition by Narada Michael Walden, a Grammy-winning producer and songwriter who has worked with artists from Wynonna Judd to Mariah Carey (Walden will also play drums for parts of this weekend’s concert). The ensemble will also perform several songs more familiar to Santana’s rock background, including Alice Coltrane’s “Andromeda’s Suffering” and George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

The collaboration is a new experience for all involved. “This is a new dimension for my heart,” Santana told a group of reporters during a break from rehearsal on Thursday night, expressing hope that the unusual pairing of rock and classical will expose fans of one genre to the other. “I believe this opens the door for young people,” he added.

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana, conductor Michael Morgan, and composer Narada Michael Walden take a short break from rehearsal.

Compared to the work Santana is known for, this weekend’s performance promises a much bigger sound. But even in front of a full orchestra, his distinctive staccato steers the listener’s attention. Playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Santana offers a welcome fresh take on Eric Clapton’s classic solo with the Beatles. “This is a very Bay Area idea,” said Michael Morgan, the symphony’s music director. Santana himself spent much of his youth in San Francisco.

Santana, now 63, is still a vibrant presence onstage. Even at Thursday’s rehearsal, he bent and swayed to the music as he played, facing the orchestra behind him. Santana was already a phenom by the time of 1969’s Woodstock concert, and has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since the 1999 release of his album Supernatural, which won nine Grammy awards. After a career playing in a variety of rock bands, Santana said he appreciates “the grand sound in the wings of the orchestra.” He said his goal in this weekend’s performance is to achieve “the sound of collective consciousness.” Morgan said of Santana that “when we have people like this helping us out, it’s a whole other thing.”

The concert, which will be the Oakland East Bay Symphony’s season opener, will take place Friday and Saturday night at 8 pm, at the Paramount Theater. Tickets range from $25 to $70. For more information, readers can visit the symphony’s website.

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  1. Isa S Chu on November 30, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I was there as a chorus member with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir…. we are so lucky, so blessed to be asked by Michael Morgan to sing at this event… now I can say I’ve been on stage alongside Carlos Santana and Narada Michael Walden! It was awesome watching them both play, and saying hello to Carlos in the hallway backstage… Narada even came to listen to our rehearsal and offer feedback on his music… I’ve been in the presence of masters…. 🙂

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