On February 17, 2019, the Chicago Philharmonic Chamber Players (CP2), also known as Fab 4tet, put on a wonderfully enjoyable concert called All You Need is Love, in homage to Valentine’s Day, at The City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The one hour sold-out concert was comprised of 16 Beatles tunes, inspiringly arranged by Benton Wedge, viola, and performed by Wedge, Katherine Hughes, violin; Jeff Yang, violin; and Matthew Agnew, cello. The artfully presented music of these virtuoso performers emphasized the wit, playfulness, lyrical romanticism and overwhelming charm of this beloved music. Audience members of all ages bopped, swayed, hummed, clapped and sang along.
The tunes played included: I Want To Hold Your Hand, In My Life, Penny Lane, I Will, Got To get You Into My Life, Eleanor Rigby, If I Fell/Here There/Everywhere, Norwegian Wood, I Am The Walrus, All You Need Is Love, Blackbird, A Day In The Life, Yesterday, Come Together and Hey Jude.
These songs were written by (and/or credited to) John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but were arranged, Wedge casually mentioned to the audience, by Sir George Henry Martin, CBE, an English record producer, arranger, composer, conductor, audio engineer, and musician. He was referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” due to his extensive involvement on each of the Beatles’ original albums. It’s been said that Martin was the greatest stroke of luck the Fab Four ever had, his influence felt even before their first recording. As they developed and grew as songwriters, Martin’s knowledge of musical composition and history, along with his keen ear for a song’s progression was there to guide them. Legend has it, Martin, sitting on a stool, would listen to Lennon and McCartney as they played their new songs on acoustic guitar. He would figure out what was needed, even adding his own piano riffs to their early records. When the time came when they wanted to add orchestral instruments, Martin drew upon his classical background to write out charts and actually conduct the musicians.
I had an opportunity to interview Benton Wedge about George Martin’s work, his influence on the Beatle’s music, the qualities an arranger must bring to the fore in “revising” or “expanding upon” such iconic music, and some of the qualities of the Beatles’ music that stand out and that he focused on in his own project.
Wedge reflected, “What George Martin did was take great pop/rock songs and turn them into timeless music. As they worked together, he sent the music out in so many different directions!” As examples, he noted, “For I Am The Walrus, Martin created the soundscape. For I Will, he interposed his own version of a Bach invention.” He went on to describe his own efforts, “Like Martin, I juxtaposed the original songs with some of my own vision. With In My Life, I struggled with my determination not to get in the way. It was with Yesterday that I felt the most trepidation; I did what I could to come up with different textures. In general, the decision I had to make was, do I get the song as played by our quartet as close as I can to the original or can I transform the original feeling?”
This thoughtful musician talked about improvising in the context of genius, “My colleagues and I are comfortable straddling the line, taking some liberties”. We agreed on some of the overarching components of the instantly recognizable Beatles’ songs: “A sense of humor, their honoring of the tradition of music yet not being weighted down by tradition, the understated nature of their prodigious talent, and a purity of melody that makes you want to hear it over and over and over again”.
Wedge concluded by noting that he and his fellows want to continue with the project in the light of the obvious audience enjoyment and their own delight. “Like the Beatles, perhaps”, he stated humbly, “we have this extra drive, an artistic ambition to keep going. A string quartet combines intimacy with a larger symphonic sound-world; we can change it up, we are NOT staid ambassadors for traditional classical energy”.
For information and tickets to all the fine programming of the Chicago Philharmonic, go to www.chicagophilharmonic.org
All photos by Elliot Mandel