“Pepperland”: Not A Beatles Cover Project

Dec 05, 2019


Mark Morris Dance Group scene from Pepperland Mark Morris Dance Group scene from Pepperland
Photo by Gareth Jones

Mark Morris Dance Group returns to Northrop Sat, Jan 25 with Pepperland, a work created as an homage to The Beatles’ highly influential Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in its 50th anniversary year. Combining contemporary choreographic wit and musicality, this program reimagines selections from the album in bold arrangements accompanied by dancers dressed in a riot of Carnaby street colors.

This evening-length work was commissioned by the City of Liverpool to kick off Liverpool’s Sgt. Pepper at 50 Festival, a season-long tribute to the recording. Though Pepperland is inspired by the iconic 1967 album, don’t expect a Beatles singalong or cover project here. Choreographer Mark Morris says himself:

“I’m not interested in a Beatles tribute at all. If you want that, put on the record. I do. It’s nice. [Pepperland] is for those who love or hate The Beatles. I mean that. It’s not reverent or irreverent. It’s a new piece and I like it.” –– Mark Morris, via The San Diego Union-Tribune

Morris has instead created a new, collaborative work with an original score by New York-based composer, arranger, and pianist Ethan Iverson, a founding member of the “game-changing collective” The Bad Plus, and previously Mark Morris Dance Group’s music director. Interspersing arrangements of famous Sgt. Pepper’s songs along with six new pieces, the score will be played live by a rather unusual chamber ensemble of voice, theremin, soprano saxophone, trombone, and two keyboards.

A Note on Sgt. Pepper

When you think of the Beatles, you think rock music, however, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band helped to codify the rock band as artists rather than popular entertainers.” It took on an inventive turn in studio technology for its time, and artistically blended illusions of various musical genres, instrumentations, and esoteric influences. Four-track recording restraints fostered new techniques for manipulating sound, which resulted in experimental noise collages, tape processing, abnormal phrase lengths, and the longest chord tracked in music history. Listen to the album and hear for yourself.


Breakdown of Iverson’s Score

Half of Iverson’s Pepperland score is arrangements of Sgt. Pepper’s songs, and half is brand new––all in acknowledgement of the album’s non-rock and roll influences. Morris has been hailed as the “most artfully musical choreographer alive,” and is well known for his use of classical music and insistence on live musical accompaniment. With this in mind, Iverson created what he intended as a clear, fun, and amusing score, with space for Morris to work with. Read more about the thought process behind each piece with these notes written by Iverson via his blog, DO THE M@TH.

On piano himself, Iverson will be joined by musicians Clinton Curtis (voice), Rob Schwimmer (theremin), Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Jacob Garchik (trombone), Colin Fowler (harpsichord/organ, and the current music director of Mark Morris Dance Group), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). Iverson hand picked this ensemble considering each musician’s ability to bring their own personality and inner life to the music. Though this score may not be what you’d expect to hear in a Beatles’ homage, you might still find yourself singing along while also picking up on Iverson’s thoughtful nods towards the Beatles’ historic album (and hear a theremin played live––a rare occurrence).

See the tracklist below, and secure your seat to Mark Morris Dance Group’s Pepperland at Northrop on Sat, Jan 25 for a highly visual, musical, and witty performance!

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  2. Magna Carta
  3. With a Little Help From my Friends
  4. Adagio
  5. When I’m Sixty Four
  6. Allegro
  7. Within You Without You
  8. Scherzo
  9. Wilbur Scoville
  10. Cadenza
  11. Penny Lane
  12. A Day In the Life
  13. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
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