Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Orchestrated

Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 02:04 PM

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:

Jingle Punks aren’t the first classical musicians to cover Nirvana. In 2009, pianist (and From the Top host) Christopher O’Riley released a spiky, textured arrangement of “Heart-Shaped Box.”

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?


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Comments [4]

Rachel from Mad Beach

The 1st classical cover of any of Nirvana's work I ever heard, was on NPR. I thought it was aired earlier than this, like between 2001-05. Does anyone else recall the musician or which song? I want to say that the musician was from South America. Of course I might be confused. I'm thinking strings, like classical guitar and/or cello.

Oct. 16 2016 09:11 AM
Frank Feldman

So silly.

Oct. 01 2011 02:16 PM
tracy from ues

oh, jingle punks --definitely my favorite treatment. the stringed instruments give it a richness this song needs, especially the cello ...soulful

Sep. 29 2011 08:08 PM
tracy from UES

ohhh man, i can't count how many times i listened to that CD. i was in art school at the university of north texas. i'd just put on my earphones and draw and draw and draw.... OR i'd be in the darkroom for hours on end with this tape in my "walkman". good times :)

Sep. 29 2011 07:54 PM

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