Members of the 14-piece orchestra, deepblue.
Members of the 14-piece orchestra, deepblue. Contributed

Deepblue reinvents the orchestra

IMAGINE a classical orchestra with stilt-walking cellists, strings players performing choreographed dances.

Orchestral David Bowie covers are interspersed with Chinese opera and Bollywood tracks while audio-visual effects abound.

Not your average orchestra, nor attracting your average insurance premium: if you can picture this, you're somewhere near picturing Brisbane's 14-piece deepblue orchestra.

The troupe's fusion of classical and electronic sounds with heavy pop culture influences and ample film samples brings unexpected elements into every show.

One of the ensemble's six violinists, Greta Kelly, describes deepblue as ‘reinventing the orchestra' to make it more accessible to audiences – and if their ticket sales are anything to go by, it's a head-turning concept.

“We've never had a bad audience reaction but that's likely because we aim for a varied audience that doesn't normally subscribe to just plain classical or orchestral music,” she says.

Classical-meets-modern music is hardly a newfangled concept –Aussie hip-hoppers Hilltop Hoods' 2006 The Hard Road Restrung album featured orchestral remixes. Similarly, alt-rockers Birds of Tokyo's strings tour was hugely successful last year.

“There's been a lot of to and fro between pop and classical music,” Kelly agrees.

“Strings have been an intermittent trend in pop music since the Beatles, really.”

But it is the extreme innovation in deepblue's performance that has attracted attention both on Youtube and stages around Australia.

Beginning as a research project at Queensland University of Technology nearly a decade ago, deepblue was the result of combined effort between music academics and marketing students to determine how a classical orchestra could be reinvented.

“We ask people to leave their phones on during our shows and text us anything, comments or requests,” Kelly says.

“This is a type of theatre that relaxes formalities and breaks the mould.”

Like any serious stage performers, the group – made up of six violinists, two viola players, two cellists, a guitarist, a keyboardist, a laptop musician and electric drummer – undertake regular dance performance training.

“We're musicians who dance for this show. We worked with the dancer who played the tap dancing dad in (the film) Happy Feet,” Kelly remembers.

“We're dancing around with very expensive instruments, so we have to be very aware of the people around us onstage.

“But we're yet to have a stilt-walking accident.”

And still, the risks continue.

“Now we're interested in creating more of a ‘festival feel' for the show, so we're looking at some fire breathing and twirling.”

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