After arranging music by modern artists like Radiohead and indie singer Bat for Lashes for string quartet, viola player Marcus Takizawa is ready for a new challenge: Skrillex. Takizawa, a freelance musician and music teacher, was touring schools around Vancouver recently as part of a program to bring chamber music into schools and decided he wanted to come up with a way to engage the young audience. "I had to do some research into what preteens listen to," he says. "Dubstep? Skrillex? I like Skrillex. It's also a question of what works (for strings). I don't know if Lady Gaga works, but it's cool to show kids, 'This is what you can do.'"
The one-hour concert and talk went over well with the students. "I think it was interesting for these kids to see you can actually do something a little different," he says. "Just because you play a certain genre of music it doesn't mean you're stuck to that genre. Just because you play classical violin, it doesn't mean you can't play in a band."
It might seem like a surprising approach for a classical musician trained at the prestigious Julliard School, but Takizawa says many young musicians feel as comfortable nowadays at a concert in a club as they do playing in a symphony. "In the past it's been used as a marketing gimmick," he says. "Some artists come up with the jazz album and you feel like it's put on. Of late, I think it's genuine. They're just genuinely learning how to play different genres or they grew up playing them. Even for me, you go to school and you're learning classical music, but your friends are listening to other music. In the last five years it's really changed. With the explosion of music now... people are more interested in doing different things."
Take Peter Krysa's upcoming show Music at Whistler: From Baroque to Hip Hop! for example. The second in his series of classical performances (the first, A Night at the Opera, on Feb. 23 sold out) the concert will blend elements of classical music with hip hop beats. Takizawa, Krysa — who plays with a variety of groups from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra — and a string trio called Infinitus, will play together at Millennium Place on March 22.
For his part, Takizawa will play an eight-minute piece looping his viola with a pre-recorded drum and bass tracks standing in for his usual bandmates who can't make it to the show. "I didn't write it for this show, but coincidentally it happens to have baroque elements and classical elements," he says. "By the nature of having drum and bass, it's breakbeat."
On top of freelance work, Takizawa plays in the band Chordophone with an electronic artist, along with The Turning Point Ensemble. He also teaches at the Vancouver Academy of Music. In a blog on his website (violinlessonsvancouver.com) where he posts information about his upcoming performances and thoughts on music sometimes directed at his students, Takizawa shared more insight into the idea of blurring musical genres. "At these school shows, my plan is to present myself as a musician with varied and wide musical interests who just happens to be a good classical chamber musician as well," he writes. "Because for me, the alternative just isn't who I am."