Spotlight: Artistic Director Peter Brennan, Jeans ‘n Classics

This year we are partnering with a number of innovative arts organizations to bring exciting productions and events to The Centre. In Spotlight, we’ll feature a series of conversations with the Artistic Directors at the helm of these creative entities.  We kick-off the year with a long-time partner whose work is well known to our audiences, Peter Brennan of Jeans ‘n Classics.

Q: Can you begin by sharing your thoughts on what defines the role of an Artistic Director?

PB: Generally speaking, the Artistic Director, of a theatre or an opera company for example, is responsible for coming up with everything to do with the art; choosing what’s going to be performed, where, its scope, the concept and direction of the work.

Q: How does this play out in your role as Artistic Director for Jeans ‘n Classics?

PB: It’s a charmed existence.  My role literally is from coming up with the show concept from soup to nuts, writing the orchestrations, finding the people who share my vision, understand the music and are capable technically to perform it…that would include the band, instrumentalists, and singers.  Over a period of time you can assemble a team, as is the case at Jeans ‘n Classics, and that team can handle whatever you throw at them.  They show you the scope of their talent and tons of opportunities open up as a result of this.   I never lose sight that the point is to bring this symphonic music to the main stage along with the band.   Without both, we’re just a band up there…sure we might be a good band, but the orchestra is an important part of the sound and the experience.

Q: You’ve made a number of changes this year, new design, new shows, why?

PB: We can’t rest on our laurels, we need to push the envelope and improve on it.  It would have been easy ten or twelve years ago to say ‘we have a dozen shows let’s stick with it.’  But for me the reason you create new shows is that hopefully you are getting better at what you do, and hand in hand with that goes the visual experience.

We want to keep our audience excited and happy and moved. And also intrigued…so that they don’t always know what’s coming.  So many interesting developments have been made in technology and we want to incorporate them into the show experience.  In our first show this year, 50 Years of Rock & Roll, we rolled out some of these great lighting and staging innovations to enhance the concert experience.

Q: All that tech must have been a challenge to pull together.

PB:  You might think so but the team at The Centre knows us really well and made it a very smooth process.  For me, one of the biggest challenges in creating that show was trying to find a balance between presenting successful songs that had a variety of styles, shapes, artists, genres while avoiding songs from past seasons or future shows coming later this season.  Trying to choose 18 pieces from a genre spanning 50 years was a carefully considered, and at times, painfully difficult process!

Q: What about a show like An Evening of Pink Floyd – The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, that must be easy by comparison?

PB: Every show has its own set of challenges to be honest.  Though it’s always a tad more difficult when you have a broad based concept like 50 years of Rock & Roll or Age of Innocence or a disco show where the scope is pretty wide and there’s so much to pick from.

The new Pink Floyd show that we’re bringing to The Centre in February is a much tighter concept and different from the last version we performed.  The first half is a cross-section of The Wall.  Since there’s not enough time to perform the whole album we’ve taken highlights and set the tone for the night.  In the second half of the show we let it run through the full Dark Side of the Moon album.  We’ve performed this new concept last year in the States and just recently in Thunder Bay and the audiences went bonkers.  They just loved the idea of an orchestra playing this material and the melding of the two worlds.  That multi-dimensional approach is at the core of our work; we’ve always tried to maintain a respect for the material while bringing it to a whole new light through the orchestration and performances.  It’s done with a great deal of care.

Q: What else is on the horizon for 2014?

PB: We’re working on the new Queen show, One Vision – The Music of Queen, adding new material from a number of their albums. The choir is very engaged.  I’m really excited about the Woodstock 2 – The No Shows.  It’s ironic that the people who didn’t go to Woodstock ended up having great careers and longevity.  It’s staggering who the luminaries are who were invited but didn’t go, and some of the lame excuses they gave.  This show features songs that those artists would likely have played if they had gone to Woodstock.  It’s an exciting show for us because it gives us the opportunity to venture into new areas and perform music by artists like Bob Dylan, whose materials we haven’t explored before.

Q. Jeans ‘n Classics has enjoyed a long and successful history. Has it become what you first envisioned almost 20 years ago?

PB: I consider myself fortunate that it turned out to be what it is.  It’s much better than I had dreamed it would be mostly because I’m surrounded by an incredible team of artists, many who have been with Jeans ‘n Classics from the very beginning. They really are the best gang in the world to work with, and I didn’t know that when I first started out.  Who could have predicted some of the adventures we’ve had, the amazing places we’ve travelled to, and the many great artists we’ve worked with together.  The other thing I didn’t anticipate was the audience response.  It’s very gratifying to have people appreciate your work.  If it all ended tomorrow I would look back and say ‘what an amazing run we’ve had!’