This Ambitious Orchestra
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This Ambitious Orchestra

Band Alternative Classical

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Jun
29
This Ambitious Orchestra @ Chau Analog

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Brooklyn, New York, USA

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Led by local artistic risk-taker Benjamin Ickies, the 18-member Ambitious
Orchestra aims to inject rock sensibility into classical music (or is it the
other way around?). The result is a herky-jerky show-tune soundscape
that makes us want to skip and smile. - TimeOut New York


"Some performers can barely apply themselves to tuning their guitars —
they simply bash it out and hope for the best. Benjamin Ickies doesn’t hit
the stage until the bassoonist, French horn player, and tympani dude are
present and accounted for. This AMBITIOUS ORCHESTRA is an oddball
outfit that operates on a simple premise: rock music could use some
classical chops and classical music could use some rock swagger…its
performance spirit is enviable. Echoes of ELO and Bowie drift by as Ickies
and his elaborate arrangements try old things a new way." - The Providence Phoenix


Recipe for The Ambitious Orchestra: Take equal parts Big Band Jazz, Klezmer, Showtunes, Chamber Orchestra, and Punk. Mix well. Serves more people than you might think.

Last October, you may recall, I wrote one of the early reviews of the then-small but promising classical music scene on MySpace.com, including short reviews of nine of the most interesting groups with sites. I’ve been periodically checking up on The Ambitious Orchestra since then, and Wednesday night (June 21) I attended their show at the Bowery Poetry Club in downtown Manhattan. (The Bowery district has exchanged the odor of urine and vomit from the Skid Row days of the ‘70s heyday of CBGB for a slew of hip little restaurants, bars, and clubs. I'd never heard of the Poetry Club, but it seems like a promising venue.) The Orchestra was billed as going on at 10:00, but for some reason the band before them didn’t get started until a few minutes after 10, and the AO didn’t start until probably 11:30. The opening band, Aaron and Mordechai, was good (and featured Ambitious Orchestra member Sylvia Mincewicz on electric violin), but they couldn’t compete with the AO.The orchestra has something like 20 members in a pretty standard one-on-a-part chamber orchestra configuration, but conductor/frontman Benjamin Ickies sings many of the songs and occasionally plays accordion. The songs themselves are excellent – great melodies, smart lyrics (“So save your ammunition. Save your strongest dog. Prepare your fragile psyche for the onset of it all. And when you see a monkey rise up and take the stand, remember you’re not dreaming, and welcome to the new age of man.”), and first-rate orchestration – most songs are written and orchestrated by Ickies and bandmember Steve La Rosa. Their new 5-song EP and the samples at MySpace show off the songwriting, orchestration, and performance well, but of course the point of a concert is the show, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a while.

Benjamin Ickies is a remarkable showman, holding the packed Bowery Poetry Club’s attention without pause from the moment the show started – the best way to describe his style is probably disciplined mania. When singing, he thrashed and flailed in a sort of focused way that was far more effective than the sloppy running around, jumping up and down, and melodramatic hand gestures one often sees. When conducting he did the same, throwing pages into the air when he finished (and occasionally knocking over the music of, and otherwise endangering, French Horn player Becky Lipsitz, whose reactions were hilarious). The band itself seemed well rehearsed, played well, and obviously had a blast. The guest singers were each excellent in their own ways. The cover of “One is the Lonliest Number” was particularly good. And at the end, Ickies used the closing number to show off the band in a fun way, vamping for about 5 minutes while he introduced each section, conducted some improvised licks, and then inviting a couple of friends of the band to come up to the stage and do their own conducting of more improvisation. When that was over, they crashed back into a final chorus on a moment’s notice, and brought it all home.

I’ve been listening to the new EP all day, and I’m looking forward to the album, allegedly due out in 2006, entitled “Shout, For the LORD has Given You the City!” In the meantime, if you can make it to one of their shows, you won’t be disappointed. - Sequenza 21


Discography

The Ambitious Orchestra (self-titled EP): 2005
Received radio play in France and various US-based internet radio stations.

Shout For the LORD Has Given You the City (LP): Due out late 2008

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Bio

This Ambitious Orchestra is Brooklyn’s own symphonic rock band. Led by accordionist/singer Benjamin Ickies, this 18-member band is bringing virtuosity back to rock and roll. With a growing reputation, they have also provided orchestration for bands including TV On the Radio, The Dresden Dolls and Rasputina.

Ickies met tuba player Joe Exley in the early 2000’s playing in New York’s rock and cabaret scenes. Since they were both classically trained and loved playing punk rock more than anything, they began performing together. Amazingly, they continued to discover many other classical rebels and outcasts on the scene: string players, woodwinds, brass, etc.. While they all enjoyed playing as guests or sidemen in other rock bands, it became clear that a new band was needed to show what these instruments and musicians could really do. So in 2004, Ickies and Exley brought twenty of these people together to create This Ambitious Orchestra, the world’s first orchestra rock band.

This Ambitious Orchestra (This AO) has since gone on to play to packed houses in New York’s hottest rock clubs playing their one-of-a-kind brand of symphonic rock. In 2005 they released their self-titled EP and are currently producing a full-length album.