One month ago, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra was heard on WQXR giving the New York premiere of John Luther Adams's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning piece, Become Ocean, at Carnegie Hall.
Last week, Seattle hosted the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras, where the Symphony won an ASCAP award for adventurous programming of contemporary music.
Friday night brought an apparent change of pace – and musical style – when the rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot joined the orchestra for his bawdy 1992 hit "Baby Got Back," as dozens of young women climbed onstage at Benaroya Hall to shake their rear ends.
Sir Mix-a-Lot's performance was part of the Seattle Symphony's "Sonic Evolution" series, an effort to bridge the city's classical and pop music scenes and build new audiences. The song was heard in an arrangement by composer Gabriel Prokofiev, who also contributed an original work, Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot. An online video of the performance has received more than 1.5 million views as of Tuesday evening.
The performance has also received a spate of media attention.
"It was an explosion of raucous energy unlike any symphony program at Benaroya before," wrote Charles D. Cross in the Seattle Times. He noted that the soloist quickly overshadowed the music's orchestrations.
New York Times critic James R. Oestreich was less convinced: "I won’t presume to review things so far outside my ken as Sir Mix-A-Lot. But I am left to wonder what a symphony orchestra can meaningfully add to this kind of repertory, notwithstanding Gabriel Prokofiev’s rudimentary orchestrations here," he wrote.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer Aubrey Cohen deemed it an event, regardless of artistic merit: "People who weren’t there will be telling their grandkids they were."