Given that Jackson's music embraced elements of pop, rock, rhythm and blues, disco and hip hop, I wondered if Havens had any concerns about the challenges of merging those styles into a symphonic program.
“Before I decided to put this show together, I listened to his whole catalog,” Havens said. “We need about 18 tunes for a show like this, and there were certain tunes (“Thriller,” “Billie Jean”) that I had to include no matter what.
“Some of the Zeppelin songs were massive hits, but I just couldn't make them work in this context. You can't ask an orchestra to play four chords for eight minutes. The Michael Jackson charts give the orchestra a whole lot to do.”
As with any orchestral pops show that ventures into the arena of pop music, the musical selections must convey the spirit and energy of the original tunes. Arrangers who aren't sensitive to this issue can end up leaving audiences disappointed.
“People often ask me why I didn't create my own interpretation of a popular song instead of making it sound more like the original,” Havens said. “I understand their thinking, but the audiences who come to these shows know every guitar lick and drum solo. If they don't recognize the tune in the first couple of bars, I haven't done my job correctly.”