The world commemorates the life and legend of David Bowie on his 73rd birthday today. With a career spanning 54 years, the iconic artist made a significant impact on pop music, receiving accolades from Grammy Awards to a British knighthood. David Bowie has been credited as the ultimate crossover artist – and with good reason. He tapped into different genres, bringing people together across all musical tastes.
Bowie never shied away from his love for classical music. In a 2004 interview for Vanity Fair, he discovered “classical music wasn’t boring” when introduced to the music of Stravinsky, Strauss, and Holst. Self-taught in basic classical theory, his 1967 self-titled album is heavily dependent on orchestral instruments. Bowie’s Low album a decade later was the result of delving into classical minimalism, thanks in part by his collaboration with experimental artist Brian Eno. The album, first of his “Berlin Trilogy,” is seen by many as part pop and part tone poems. “Subterranean,” the final track on the album, samples Elgar’s Nimrod from his Enigma Variations to create a futuristic ambient tune.
Theatrics were as much a powerful element in Bowie’s performances as music. Beginning in the late 60s, he began studying diverse dramatic arts – from avant-garde to the commedia dell’arte. Also borrowing from another classical tradition – opera – the role of makeup and costume were essential in creating his personas. Whether sporting a waistcoat as Thin White Duke or glamming it out as Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s personas became iconic in their own right on and beyond the stage.
David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday, January 8, 2016. Two days later, the icon died of liver cancer. Longtime producer Tony Visconti mentioned the album was meant as a swan song for his fans around the world before his death. Almost immediately, Evan Ziporyn, Director of MIT’s Center for Art, set to work in arranging an orchestral version of Bowie’s “parting gift.” Three weeks after Bowie’s death, Ziporyn organized a tribute concert. They played Philip Glass’ Symphony No. 1 (“Low”) and Symphony No. 4 (“Heroes”). Glass, a friend of Bowie in the 70s, was inspired by Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” when creating the compositions. Ziporyn, along with longtime collaborator and cellist Maya Beiser, later adapted the full Blackstar album as a concerto in 2017. Last month, they revealed “Lazarus,” part of their upcoming album Bowie Cello Symphonic: Blackstar. The album will be released this Friday, the 4th anniversary of Bowie’s passing.
Today, many are paying their tributes around the world. From personal messages on social media, bell tolls, and a previously unreleased version of “The Man Who Sold the World,” many are commemorating a man whose music continues to influence the heart and minds of many.
Interested in continuing the celebration? Head over to the Memorial Art Gallery on Friday, January 17, for their Bowie Birthday Bash! Join them and celebrate the Starman, in all his incarnations and all his talents. Click here for more information.