Enchantingly Gregorian

A German-based group infuses pop and rock songs with a tinge of the Gregorian chant.

Gregorian (photo credit: FRANK PETERSON)
(photo credit: FRANK PETERSON)
As any marketing professional will tell you, you can’t argue with longevity. And while the German-based ensemble Gregorian has not been popular for quite as long as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, not to mention the likes of Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, the ensemble has proven to have enduring global appeal.
“It started in 1989 with Enigma,” explains founder Frank Peterson, “with a song called ‘Sadness.’” That release did pretty well in places like France, but the venture was put on ice for a few years, resurfacing about a decade later.
“We put out the first record around 2000-2001,” says Peterson.
That was Masters of Chant – Chapter 1, which has been followed by over a dozen more releases, garnering album sales of more than ten million worldwide and playing for an aggregate audience of in excess of 2.5 million on the global concert circuit.
Now Peterson is bringing his band’s captivating mix of Gregorian chant-inspired versions of modern pop and rock songs to Tel Aviv for what promises to be a visual and sonic extravaganza. The show is fronted by top box office draw vocalist Amelia Brightman, who will be backed by eight male singers, who will don their customary monk’s attire, and five instrumentalists.
While the evocatively tailored chanting show has accrued impressive sales and performance stats over the years, Peterson says it was initially a slow burner.
“We have been growing gradually. We started out with a small production, and we played in churches. It became bigger and bigger, and now we play arenas and, obviously, that goes along with a big production,” he says.
That also brings in eye-catching special effects, including jawdropping pyrotechnics galore.
“We have exploding guitars and burning hands. It’s quite a spectacular show,” Peterson observes with more than a touch of understatement. “It’s definitely more than just hearing the music.”
The show’s relatively humble beginnings laid the groundwork for the later productions in more senses than one, even if the technical specifications had to undergo a radical change.
“You have an amazing backdrop in most churches, like frescoes, stained-glass windows and all those sorts of things,” says Peterson. “And when we went to concert halls, we tried to recreate the church venue with lighting and other things. But, of course, the acoustics are very different. But over the years, the church concert has become the soul of what we do.”
The transition has certainly paid dividends, and large audiences the world over flock to the dramatically designed Gregorian shows. The cozy ecclesiastical vibe has persisted with great success.
“I think what people like is that we come with very intimate little ideas. For example, we have our singer, Amelia Brightman, and all the big lights dim down, and all you see is Amelia’s hands opening – they are burning. All you see is her hands and her face. There is nothing bombastic. We’re not [flamboyant American rock band] KISS,” Peterson laughs. “We do little things, when people go ‘Wow!’” The proof of the pudding is in the audience’s response.
“We’ve done over 1,000 concerts, and we’ve never done a show without getting a standing ovation,” Peterson declares proudly. “People always leave our concerts happy after giving us a standing ovation.”
The Gregorian troupe may not be KISS, but there is still something very expansive about it and is clearly designed to make a grand and moving impression.
“Our music sounds very special and kind of intimate, but what we do lends itself to big gestures. When, for example, we do ‘Shout’ [pop hit for 1980s British group Tears for Fears], that is kind of outgoing and animating. We just go full throttle,” he says.
Over the years, Gregorian has covered a wide range of popular numbers, taking in material by the likes of British rock band Coldplay, country music-influenced rock ‘n’ roll duo The Everly Brothers, eclectic Icelandic diva Bjork, American rocker Lenny Kravitz and American industrial rock outfit Nine Inch Nails. So how does Peterson go about choosing the group’s repertoire? “There’s no rhyme or reason to that,” he says.
“It’s my own taste, what people expect to hear from us, what’s fun for us to play. And I like to keep a mixture of all our work that we’ve done over the last 16 or 17 years.”
Gregorian has certainly mixed and matched over the years. Thus far the group has performed close to 400 songs, and Peterson says the spread appeals to all kinds of music consumers.
“I look around at our audiences, and it is the same that you might see at a musical or at an entertainment show. With rock shows, you can pinpoint the audiences. With us, it’s a little different. I don’t really like to use the term ‘family entertainment,’ but it’s the only one I can come up with. I wouldn’t put an age tag to what we do. We have gothic people coming to our shows, and we have people who use our music for role model games. We have people of all ages and from all walks of life,” he says.
While Gregorian’s shows are a visual wonder to behold, Peterson says that it all comes down to the vocal delivery.
“That’s the basis of the whole thing.”
The group is really a summation of Peterson’s early musical leanings, which took in 1960s and ‘70s rock and pop titans such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. As a youngster he did a paper route to save up cash to buy LPs, and his youthful breadwinning exploits have left their mark on the Gregorian offering and takes the production, briefly, away from the tried and tested route.
“Every record has one song when I think, ‘Nobody has heard that.’ It’s like a little hidden gem that I love, and I always put one of those songs on the [Gregorian] records,” he says.
Peterson promises that the members of his Israeli audience will have a great time, and that they should be prepared to get up and dance.
“We’ll be doing a nice mixture of the songs we have been doing for the last 16 or 17 years, so it’s quite difficult to pick the best ones to do. We always end the shows with one or two dance tracks. We really have a little party with the audience,” he says.
Gregorian will perform on October 29 at 9 p.m. at Menora Mivtahim in Tel Aviv. For tickets: *8780 and www.leann.co.il