The idea of an orchestra performing 1970s progressive rock sounds at first like the stuff of purest novelty. And while the excesses of that movement bent on the artistic “elevation” of rock-and-roll quickly became easy targets, its music has undeniable resonances with the classical canon, broadly defined. In a piece on the modern reevaluation of “prog-rock,” The New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh quotes a Rolling Stone critic labeling the ambitious new sound “jazz-influenced classical-rock” in a 1972 review of the debut album of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, who later “reached the Top Ten, in both Britain and America, with a live album based on its bombastic rendition of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.”
King Crimson, another pillar of the subgenre, once played a “ferocious set” that ended with “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite — as an opener for the Rolling Stones. But no band to rise out of the prog-rock ferment has made more of an impact, or more fans, than Pink Floyd.
Their 1973 release The Dark Side of the Moon remains, as of this writing, the fourth best-selling album of all time (to say nothing of its T‑shirts and dorm-room posters), and though its ten songs fairly demand tribute, paying proper homage to their elaborate composition and production is easier said than done. Enter the University of Dublin’s student-run Trinity Orchestra, who take it on in the video above, filmed at Christ Church Cathedral during 2012’s 10 Days in Dublin festival.
“Time,” the best-known of The Dark Side of the Moon’s album tracks, is here rearranged for a full orchestra, band, and singers, and going by sound alone, you might believe you’re listening to one of the Floyd’s more richly instrumented live shows (not that they were known to skimp in that department). But there’s no mistaking this orchestral version of “Wish You Were Here” (from their eponymous follow-up album) for the genuine article, certainly not because of inadequate musicianship, but because most of the musicians are playing mandolins. Conducted by Boris Björn Bagger, these German players include not just mandolinists but the late Michael Rüber front and center on electric guitar — an all-important instrument, it seems, no matter how far rock progresses.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.