HANOVER, NH—The Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College welcomes back the funny, virtuosic, twanging and supremely entertaining Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain for an all-uke concert Friday, April 20, 8 pm, in Spaulding Auditorium.
What began 30 years ago as “a bit of fun” has since kept this “plucky” orchestra entertaining audiences worldwide. Unabashed by their out-sized success playing pint-sized instruments, “the Ukes” cross genres and upend expectations with toe-tapping disarm. Singing and strumming their “bonsai guitars,” they demonstrate that all genres of music are available for reinterpretation, from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana and from Otis Redding to Spaghetti Western soundtracks, or as the Ukes put it, “one plucking thing after another.”
The Ukes do a bit of everything, from rock (sort of) …
Using instruments small and large, in high and low registers, whether playing intricate melodies, simple tunes, or complex chords, and sitting in chamber group format dressed in formal evening wear, the Orchestra uses the limitations of the instrument to create a musical freedom as it reveals unsuspected musical insights. Both the beauty and vacuity of popular and highbrow music are highlighted, the pompous and the trivial, the moving and the amusing. Sometimes a foolish song can touch an audience more than high art; sometimes music which takes itself too seriously is revealed to be hilarious. You may never think about music in the same way once you’ve been exposed to the Ukes’ depraved musicology. The Sunday Times (UK) praised the group as “iconoclastic,” exhibiting “unabashed genre-crashing antics. Nothing is spoof proof.”
The orchestra was formed in 1985 on a lark, but the first gig was an instant sell-out, and the Ukes have been performing ever since. By 1988 they had released an LP, appeared on BBC TV, played at WOMAD and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session. The current ensemble has been playing together for more than 20 years and has recorded 16 albums as well as DVDs and instruction books. The orchestra has given thousands of sold-out concerts across the world, from the Sydney Opera House to The Royal Albert Hall to New York’s Carnegie Hall. The orchestra has spawned hundreds of imitators, and you can now find ukulele groups in nearly every major city. The group’s latest album, released in November, is By Request: Songs From the Set List, created in direct response to fans’ wish list.
The orchestra’s music has been used in films, plays, and commercials, while film clips of the its live concerts and TV appearances have garnered millions of views. Collaborators have included The British Film Institute and Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens).
…to classical (sort of).