U. orchestra mashes up with Jay-Z


The millions of viewers who tuned in to CBS' pre-game coverage of Super Bowl XLIV last night had the opportunity to watch the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra and Sinfonia in a promotional teaser with hip-hop artist Jay-Z.

Sixty-five graduate and undergraduate students from the University orchestras, led by Maestro Kynan Johns, filmed the video Feb. 2 at the Capitale Event Space in New York.

"The opportunity for Rutgers to get its name out there for everyone to read, see and hear was something we couldn't resist," Johns said. "I think it's important for us, especially those in classical music, to diverge and to do different things."

The two-minute teaser featured Jay-Z and Rihanna's "Run This Town" mashed-up with a pre-recorded orchestral version of "Posthumus Zone" and the "NFL on CBS" theme, arranged by composer Helmut Vonlichten.

Members from the orchestra and the band E.S. Posthumus appeared alongside Jay-Z in the video, which flashed game clips featuring the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Cristopher Basso said. "It's an excellent opportunity that Rutgers has given us as students and part of the music school."       

In the production atmosphere, the orchestra interacted with professionals and experienced the behind-the-scenes progression of a television spot, complete with several takes and pyrotechnics.    

"With [Jay-Z] there in the conductor's position, having him interacting with our musicians, they got into it, there was the energy level," Johns said. "I think they did our school proud."

The orchestra got the opportunity through Tim Smith, director of Rutgers Athletic Bands.

The NFL invited Smith, a Mason Gross School of the Arts professor, and the University marching band two years ago to perform at an annual dinner held as a tribute to all the networks that covered football, including CBS.

Smith worked with the music producers from those networks, such as the Vonlichten brothers, to arrange the network football theme music to suit the marching band.   

Franz Vonlichten, who played guitar behind the orchestra during the teaser, contacted Smith because he wanted a local group, Smith said.

"It's funny that the orchestra strives for this highbrow classical posture, which they reach, yet they are seen playing with Jay-Z. There's the irony. I love it," he said.

Dean of Mason Gross George Stauffer played a significant role in the orchestra's involvement in the teaser, Johns said.

The nine-hour session, which took students out of classes, was something that needed faculty support, Johns said. Stauffer negotiated with CBS to ensure the orchestra received proper credit.

 "Many of our students are involved with professional orchestras, professional theatre or dance groups, or galleries," Stauffer said. "This [opportunity] is just an example of the many professional opportunities you have here at New Brunswick, in close proximity to New York or Philadelphia."


Jovelle Tamayo

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