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Powered by the angelic, multi-octave voice of Annie Haslam and the double keyboard work of Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin, the progressive rock quintet Renaissance is a force to be reckoned with in concert, producing memorable musical tales and swirling patterns of sound that seem impossible for just five performers to accomplish.
But on October 26, and for the first time in over 40 years, Renaissance will open a much anticipated four-date US tour accompanied by a ten-piece chamber orchestra, performing material from the bands nearly half-century of compositions.
With the driving rhythms of long-time percussionist Frank Pagano, and relative newcomers Leo Traversa on bass and Mark Lambert on guitars, the group is preparing an aural fest for fans and newcomers alike.
In a recent call into The Newtown Bee from her Philadelphia-area home, Haslam said this exclusive and limited tour will give Renaissance an opportunity to perform not only top favorites like “Mother Russia,” “Carpet of the Sun,” and “A Song For All Seasons,” plus a few other group staples and a couple of special surprises.
The tour opens in Ridgefield before moving on to the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Penn., where the show will be filmed for what is sure to be a keepsake DVD for anyone whose spirit is touched by the ensemble. From there, Haslam said the band goes on to New York City’s Town Hall, and “The Egg” in Albany, before parting with the chamber players and closing out a few scaled back shows with just the core band.
Tesar’s Tremendous Help
An advance notes that Haslam has previously performed with orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic — both as a soloist, and with her band — but the upcoming “Symphonic Journey” tour has the veteran bandleader fired up.
“Although it’s not easy to pull off, we’ve curated our own group of ten orchestral players for four special concerts — and I can’t wait to look over my shoulder and see strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion as we launch into our big numbers,” she said, adding that any opportunity the band gets to tour provides a chance to reconnect with devotees, and to keep the masterful songwriting skills of its late co-founder Michael Dunford alive for new audiences to experience as they are meant to be heard, in a live concert setting.
She told The Bee that keyboardist and musical director Rave Tesar was a tremendous help assembling the chamber players.
“Rave has his own studio and has played with and produced many classical players over the years, as well as having a phenomenal jazz group with his brother Bill,” Haslam said. “So he has amassed many connections with these kinds of players over the years, including Joe Deninzon, an extremely talented violin player who has his own quartet. So that’s where we started, and we built everyone else off of that using friends of Joe and Rave.”
Recently, Renaissance has toured North America, Canada, Japan, and South Korea, and in April 2015 had a triumphant tour of Europe (UK, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Israel, and Portugal) and produced their first album in 13 years titled Symphony of Light.
The album is a testament to the unforgettable melodies that Dunford infused into his work, up until he passed prematurely in 2012.
The album starts off with powerful lyrics by Annie Haslam in the title track about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, followed by “Waterfall”, a song written about the rainforests of Brazil. All the songs bathe the listener in flavors from far off countries, with lush orchestral arrangements and unusual lyrical content, with guest appearances from Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and the late John Wetton (Asia/King Crimson/UK).
Painting And Planning
Haslam said that if this brief Symphonic Journey tour is well-received, Renaissance may opt to mount a longer stretch in the United Kingdom and Europe sometime in 2018. At the same time, Haslam is continuing with another passion, painting.
To that end, she has created a set of four brand new large canvas works that will decorate the rear of the stage for the Symphonic Journey concerts. At the same time, Haslam said Tesar was able to access and modify some of the original orchestral charts from when Renaissance performed with a couple of the world’s great orchestras four decades earlier.
“We had some that Michael (Dunford) had kept — ‘Song for All Seasons,’ ‘Mother Russia,’ and ‘Carpet of the Sun.’ Then we created new arrangements for ‘Symphony of Light’ and ‘Grandine il vento’ from the new album,” she said. “Even though there are orchestral arrangements on those new songs, there were never actual charts, so Rave and one of our old bandmates Mark Lampariello worked feverishly over the past few weeks to complete them.”
She said the Symphonic Journey will include the rarely played “Trip to the Fair,” “At The Harbor,” and a song called “Island,” recorded by the very first incarnation of Renaissance.
“That one, ‘Island,’ was my audition song, and I have been wanting to perform that again for a long time,” Haslam said.
Haslam confided that “It’s one thing to put together a tour, but to do a tour of this complexity is… wheeeee!
“It’s more challenging,” she said, “and Rave has already said that we might be flying by the seat of our pants on opening night (laughing), but it’s going to be fabulous.”
For tickets ($52), call the box office at 203-438-5795, or visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street, in Ridgefield.
Check out Renaissance performing “Ocean Gypsy” from the band’s Live at The Union Chapel in London UK on April 16 2015
Renaissance, led by Annie Haslam, performs “Prologue” at The Union Chapel