Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine takes the leap into classical music with a one-night performance with the San Diego Symphony.
For fans of the thrash-metal band Megadeth, it shouldn’t have been too surprising to hear that the group’s frontman and electric guitar virtuoso, Dave Mustaine, would be joinging the San Diego Symphony for a one-night special performance. After all, this is the same man who wrote "Symphony of Destruction" – one of the band’s biggest hits. It only makes sense.
Originally the lead guitarist for metal legends Metallica, Mustaine was infamously given the boot in 1983. He went on to form Megadeth the same year -- and has enjoyed quite the storied career since, selling more than 50 million albums worldwide and garnering 11 Grammy nominations.
Known for being one of the most outspoken and polarizing figures in the metal world -- and also, more recently, for comments on religion and politics – Mustaine will put the talk to rest on Saturday, when he steps onstage with the orchestra at Copley Symphony Hall for "Symphony Interrupted" as a guest guitar soloist on Vivaldi’s "Summer" and "Winter" movements, from The Four Seasons, and J.S. Bach’s "Air on the G String." The symphony’s website also promises a special encore performance at the show, which might just appeal to Megadeth fans in particular.
Thankfully, the guitarist took a few minutes out from preparing for the upcoming sold-out show to discuss how it came together and how he hopes his fans behave themselves in a classical music setting.
Dustin Lothspeich: How did this collaboration happen?
Dave Mustaine: The idea was a combination of mine and a friend in England: Dan Campbell. We presented it to Tommy Philips [the San Diego Symphony’s director of artistic planning]. I’ve always thought that metal has a very classical element to it, a very thematic element. A lot of classical pieces tell great stories.
DL: Have you always appreciated and listened to classical music?
DM: To a degree. I’d be lying if I said I had a bunch of classical music on vinyl in crates. But I had such a passion for this project -- and now it’s gone even farther than I’ve ever imagined. This all just goes to show: Anything you set your mind to, you can do.
DL: Did you have a role in choosing the different classical pieces you’ll be performing?
DM: We picked a couple of different songs, and after I dug into the ones I thought of ... they just weren’t as exciting. When you listen to classical music, you don’t always remember who the composers are. There are millions of renditions by different performers. Some of the songs, though, I’ve heard forever. We talked about doing some improvising, like soloing over "The Ride of the Valkyries." Vivaldi is so magical. The emotion there is so incredible in some of his works.
DL: Do you think it’ll be an event you’ll be taking part of again?
DM: Well, we initially were doing a one-off kind of thing. Usually when they do these performances, they keep a lot of sections closed off -- but, because of the demand, they’ve had to open all the sections at Copley. So we’ve discussed doing more stuff in the future.
DL: How do you think metal fans will feel being in a classical music hall?
DM: It’ll be interesting to see. It’ll be like putting two trapezists in midair; there’ll be a lot of differences of opinions. As long as our fans can get along, it’s going to be wonderful.
DL: Was it challenging, switching from metal guitar playing to playing in a classical style?
DM: I think this will be natural for me. There are some people who think Bo Jackson was a showoff because he played baseball and football, but I think he was great at both. Deion Sanders did great at both, too, but then again, you put Michael Jordan in baseball and he sucked. Baroque was the original metal. When you’ve innovated an entire guitar style in metal, this kind of playing isn’t too difficult.
DL: So it wasn’t challenging to learn the classical works you’ll be playing?
DM: I’m self-taught. I climb up sheet music; it takes me three years to learn "Chopsticks" [laughs]. But if I write it myself, no, it’s not challenging. For the two movements, they have a lot of switching between minor and major progressions. In metal, we tend to stay more in the minor chords rather than the major chords. But if I didn’t look at this as something I know I could do, then it could be daunting. For me, guitar is guitar, and it’s what I do. It’s fun for me.
DL: Do you think electric guitar should have its own place in an orchestra?
DM: No, I don’t. I don’t think it deserves a permanent place because it’s a fretted instrument. Electric guitar should only "appear" in an orchestra. And to have some dude with a bow tie, with a hollow-body guitar, playing jazz chords over that music -- that ain’t cool. If you got a guy who shows up as a soloist in a performance spot, they’re carrying the weight. There are a lot of purists that would agree. too.
DL: Will we see any Megadeth songs performed or will you only be playing classical works?
DM: Well, you know, I’m not gonna rule anything out. We’ll do something, and it’ll be cool. By way of keeping everything original and new -- and constantly pushing the envelope – we’re trying not to mimic anything anyone else has done.
DL: Does this type of performance carry any extra weight because it's not a typical metal band?
DM: I think, on the surface, people would assume the way an orchestra operates would be foreign, but when you’re a band leader, there’s a lot of common ground. A conductor can play all the different instruments in the orchestra; I can play bass, drums and electric guitar. So if you start thinking like that, you can make the connection. This is going to be very challenging for me, but I know I can do it. I’m very confident. I know the orchestra is going to be fantastic. And I know our fans: Even if I went out there and fell on my face, our fans would go, "Great style, Dave" [laughs].