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Pushing the Envelope

March 28, 1993

Re: Randy Lewis' article "Classical, Yet Unclassifiable" (March 14):

Lewis states that the Brodsky/Costello collaboration "defies easy categorization. Rock 'n' roll gone legit? Chamber music with an attitude?" He is apparently unaware that there is already a 25-year-old category of rock which "The Juliet Letters" falls neatly into. It's known as progressive rock.

Twenty-four years before "The Juliet Letters" was released, Jethro Tull performed "Bouree," an adaptation of a Bach piece, live with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Critics went wild, and Life magazine did a large article on the band.

Less than a year later Emerson, Lake & Palmer astounded fans and critics alike at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 with their stunning adaptation of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." ELP went on to compose their own original, classically influenced pieces.

These are only a few examples of the forays into classical music attempted, mostly with success, of progressive rock musicians. The defining characteristic of progressive rock? Superior musicianship and eclectic songwriting. "The Juliet Letters," and its composers, definitely qualify.

But beware, Elvis Costello! Critics rapidly turn with a vengeance on anyone who dares tamper with rock 'n' roll's perceived basics, namely mindlessness and mediocre musicianship. Artists willing to bring thoughtful introspection and virtuosity into the sacred halls of rock are soon labeled "pretentious" and "pompous." Critics rarely remember that upon first hearing such excellent music . . . they liked it.

MATTHEW M. COLVILLE

Cypress

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