We will rock you: Philharmonic pays tribute to Queen

“One Vision: The Music of Queen” set Jan. 4-5 at Mahalia Jackson Theater

It’s become trendy to take the music of rock artists and adapt it to an orchestral setting.

With “pops” orchestras leading the way, the genre has morphed from standards in the Great American Songbook to the rock ’n’ roll trendsetters from the 1960s onward, starting with the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and later including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson and others. Sooner or later, a modern composer’s eye was bound to land on Queen.

But how to transpose into orchestral format such romping, raucous numbers such as “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

New Orleans audiences will find out when the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra performs “One Vision — The Music of Queen” on Friday and Saturday at the Mahalia Jackson Theater as part of the “Jeans ’n’ Classics” Series.

Guest Conductor Robert Bernhardt makes his New Orleans debut leading the LPO and the LSU choir for about 20 of Queen’s greatest hits.

Michael Shotton sings the lead, fronting a small cover band and backup singers, in addition to the LPO.

Led by the late Freddie Mercury, Queen was indeed the “champion of the world” during its 1970s and 1980s heyday.

The band’s music was hard to miss, even if it didn’t appeal to you. It was everywhere you went.

“We Will Rock You” was heard in nearly every stadium — in fact, it still is — as was “We Are the Champions.”

And the stadium setting was where Queen ruled.

Few groups could rouse a stadium crowd better than this British quartet that minted multiplatinum albums and performed to sellout audiences everywhere it went.

The band released a total of 18 No. 1 albums, as many singles, and 10 No. 1 DVDs. Estimates of album sales range from 150 million to 300 million, placing the band among the world’s top-selling recording artists.

Recipients of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Phonographic Industry in 1990, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Classically trained, Bernhardt brings to the podium a wealth of experience conducting the adapted works of rock stars.

About 15 years ago, he conducted the first North American pops shows of Beatles songs in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tenn., with the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, where he also led a recent show of Queen’s music.

“It’s a real winner; an enormous success,” he said of the Queen show. “Everybody there should have a blast.”

Of the lead singer, Bernhardt said, “Mike (Shotton) is superior. He’s got a great rock ’n’ roll voice. While nobody could duplicate Freddie Mercury, (Shotton) still does a superb job. And the band has a very clever way of using the chorus in about a dozen of the songs.”

Queen’s music translates well to orchestral arrangements, Bernhardt said.

“I believe that Freddie Mercury thought orchestrally. In the studio, he was very careful about how the orchestrations and instrumentation blended.

“In some of their songs, the orchestra was in a key supporting role, always tastefully, and always fitting the style of the band. A lot of the string work (in the adaptation) will sound like the band itself,” he said.

Bernhardt also noted that he expects the audience to participate. “Once that powerful music starts playing, we dare you to not get involved,” he said.