The New Standards, the versatile piano-bass-vibraphone trio that has won a global following since its formation in the Twin Cities a decade ago, will take the stage for a first-time collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra on Saturday, July 2. As they prepped for this musical mash-up, band members Chan Poling (piano) and John Munson (bass) talked to us about the Minneapolis music scene, Orchestra Hall’s first onstage bar and the joy of sharing music with fans. Complete concert details »
The New Standards and the Minnesota Orchestra―tell us how this collaboration came about.
Chan Poling: I reached out to [Minnesota Orchestra Director of Live at Orchestra Hall] Grant Meachum when he first moved to Minneapolis, and by sheer coincidence he had just heard (from his barber!) that he should check out The New Standards. He thought we wanted to simply do a TNS show in the Hall, but we had a dream to play fully embedded in the Orchestra. It was this desire, to come with fully fleshed-out interactive arrangements of our pop repertoire—not simply sing over string “pads”—that intrigued Grant and [Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall] Sarah Hicks.
John Munson: We have wanted to work with the Orchestra for quite awhile. We discovered Orchestra Hall as a favorite venue when we played Macy's Day of Music a few years back, and we've been trying to get back in ever since. Turns out it's a pretty exclusive gig.
Who is putting together the orchestral arrangements for the July 2 concert? How did you determine the set list?
Poling: The amazingly talented and deeply experienced Robert Elhai, who has written arrangements for Broadway and Hollywood blockbusters and for orchestras around the world, is creating our arrangements. We are thrilled to have him on our team! It’s been a process. We wanted to stay true to our “mission,” and be clear that we play NEW standards and not the old. And we wanted to choose songs that we would enjoy playing for the next few years, as we hopefully tour this sort of show.
You invited a woodwind quintet from the Orchestra to perform at your annual holiday show this year. What was that experience like?
Munson: That was a great experience! Such a thrill. The musical facility of orchestral players is really something to behold. Not to mention the tone. I personally had the bell of a French horn pointed right at me, and the tone and expressive qualities were thrilling. On the other hand our show is pretty free-wheeling, different than the usual thing for the orchestra players. But I think they had fun.
What are you particularly excited about in this partnership?
Munson: I am excited for us. Super excited. But I have to say, as a community member I’m more excited about what this collaboration suggests in terms of the Orchestra opening its arms to the incredibly rich, vital, vibrant pop music scene that lives in the same town as the Orchestra. It is my opinion that everyone will really benefit from the Orchestra’s openness to these sorts of collaborations.
Poling: We work on these arrangements in a very compositional way and think in orchestral terms, actually—we get really satisfied when the parts are inventive but simple and work together to be huge-sounding even though we are only three players. Yes, these are pop and alternative rock songs, but we take them seriously and the weighty potential (if I may say so) of having a full orchestral palette, I think, will elevate them to the kinds of heights we always imagined!
The New Standards reinterpret songs from so many genres. What is the connecting thread in the music you choose to play?
Munson: The songs have to suggest something latent in them, something that was not explored in the original arrangement. And something great about the lyrics. Those are the common threads.
You’ve suggested the idea of hosting “bar seating” onstage during the July 2 concert. How did this come about?
Poling: Well, we were trying to think of something that would be unique about this show, because honestly The New Standards are not your typical concert hall group. We thrive in situations that are loose and where the banter can flow freely. And the booze. Enter to win tickets and bar seating at this concert »
Putting aside this concert, what is your favorite venue to perform in?
Munson: So many, many wonderful places to play. Impossible to choose really, BUT if I want to play a rock show then I want to play at First Ave. That bar was all I aspired to as a young man. And every time I get back there it feels like a tremendous blessing. For The New Standards though, out of town Joe’s Pub in New York is delightful. And of course we love The Dakota, our home in Minneapolis.
When you attend a concert as an audience member, who or what do you enjoy listening to?
Poling: In all honesty I listen to and go see a LOT of diverse stuff. I really enjoy exploring and listening to all sorts of music. Recently I have attended shows that ranged from Gounod to Janis Joplin, Harold Budd and Brian Eno, Penderecki, “C,” the new Cyrano musical, Iggy Pop and more.
In the time following Prince’s death there has been conversation about how his music is grounded in Minneapolis and how he chose to remain part of the Twin Cities music scene. You clearly feel this tie to the Minneapolis scene—what is the draw for you?
Munson: The days immediately after Prince’s death tell you all you need to know about our cities’ music scene. It was nothing surprising to me personally, to be honest. It’s a sentimental town. It’s a town that loves its own and takes pride in its own. Especially when those heroes stay home or stay true to their roots. You learn about that when you roll up to play a gig in December or January and there’s a line down the block. I think the draw for me is to be on a journey with some of those old fans, to try and surprise them by growing but also being able to provide a comfortable place for them. Best fans in the world. Without a doubt.
Poling: I’m finding it a bit hard to talk and write about Prince these days. It was a big blow. But the outpouring from around the world illustrates better than words how very vital this town’s contributions to pop musical culture have been.
What else should Minnesota Orchestra audiences know about The New Standards?
Poling: We are serious about the music we love, and get great joy out of playing, but mainly it’s about having fun with everyone.