The early '90s rock band Nirvana was about as far from the ethos of string quartets and piano recitals as it is to get. And yet a number of classical performers have embraced the godfathers of grunge, particularly during this, the 20th anniversary month of their groundbreaking album "Nevermind."
In 1991, Nirvana ushered in grunge, a heavy, post-punk style, to the forefront of popular music, making frontman Kurt Cobain and his bandmates into music industry game-changers. While Nirvana’s songs are thick with power chords and distortion, some of their thrashing intensity can still be captured using violins, violas and cellos.
A collective of string players called the Jingle Punks Hipster Orchestra has just released an album of Nirvana covers after a request from the band's publisher. The Jingle Punks are the arm of a music-licensing company and have previously recorded songs by contemporary rock bands like The Strokes, MGMT and the Black Keys. Jeff Peters, the senior composer at Jingle Punks, discovered a hidden depth in Nirvana's music. “The songs weren’t really standard one-four-five progressions,” he said. “There are lot of modulations that I’m sure Kurt Cobain didn’t do consciously but they were unexpected.”
As with any crossover project, Peters said a challenge was to create arrangements that didn’t drain the songs of their energy nor artificially pump them up. He found that too many string quartet arrangements of rock songs try and add distortion and other effects that sound unnatural.
“If you’re going to use strings you should play to their natural advantages,” said Peters. Watch the results in this video:
And from the jazz sphere, the experimental jazz-rock trio The Bad Plus released this 2006 cover of Nirvana's hit "Smells like Teen Spirit."
Weigh in: What do you think of these covers? What are your favorite classical treatments of rock music?